pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Kata Bohus

Not a Jewish Question?

The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann


In this paper, I examine the trial of Adolf Eichmann, portrayals of the trial in the contemporaneous Hungarian press, and the effects of the trial and the coverage on the formation of Holocaust memory in communist Hungary. The trial presented a problem for communist propaganda because it highlighted the destruction of Jews as the worst crime of the Nazi regime. While communist ideology’s anti-fascism defined its stance as “anti-anti-Semitic,” the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of World War II as a conflict between two opposing, ideologically defined camps (fascists and anti-fascists) made it difficult to accommodate the idea of non-political victimhood, e.g. the destruction of Jews on the basis of racist ideas and not because of their political commitments. Moreover, because of Eichmann’s wartime mission in Hungary, it was clear that the trial would feature a great deal of discussion about his activities there. Therefore, the Hungarian Kádár regime devoted considerable attention to the event, both within the Party and in the press. The analysis concentrates on two aspects: what did the highest echelons of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party intend to emphasize in the Hungarian coverage of the trial and what kinds of interpretations actually appeared in the press. In the end, the party’s political goals were only partially achieved. Control over newspapers guaranteed that certain key propaganda themes were included rather than ensuring that other narratives would be excluded. I argue that, while the Kádár regime in Hungary did not intend to emphasize the Jewish catastrophe and certainly did not seek to draw attention to its Hungarian chapter, as a consequence of the Eichmann trial there nevertheless emerged a narrative of the Hungarian Holocaust. Through various organs of the press, this narrative found public expression. Though this Holocaust narrative can be considered ideologically loaded and distorted, some of its elements continue to preoccupy historians who study the period today.


Keywords: Adolf Eichmann, communism in Hungary, Holocaust memory, communist press and propaganda


Adolf Eichmann, a former Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lieutenant Colonel) was captured by Israeli secret agents in Buenos Aires, Argentina on May 11, 1960. He was subsequently transported to Israel, where he would stand trial, indicted on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and membership in a hostile organization (SD, Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers SS) during the period of Nazi rule in Germany. His trial began in Jerusalem on April 11, 1961. He was pronounced guilty on December 11 and executed in the spring of 1962.

Many historians have argued that the Eichmann trial signalled a defining moment in (if not the real beginning of) Holocaust memory. David Cesarani noted that “the capture, trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann […] changed forever perceptions of the Nazi persecution and mass murder of the Jews.”1 Michael Rothberg went so far as to state that “the Eichmann trial brought the Nazi genocide of European Jews into the public sphere for the first time as a discrete event on an international scale.”2 In addition to the trial, Hannah Arendt’s iconic articles in the New Yorker magazine—later turned into the book Eichmann in Jerusalem—started the global scholarly debate about the character of Adolf Eichmann, the working logic of the totalitarian state, and individual responsibility in its operation.3

At Adolf Eichmann’s trial, it was clear that there would be a lot of discussion about his activities in Hungary during World War II. Arriving to Hungary in the footsteps of the invading German troops, Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann’s main task was to arrange, with the cooperation of local authorities, the deportation of the largest remaining Jewish population in Eastern Europe. The deportation of over 400,000 people to Auschwitz-Birkenau between mid-May and early July 1944 and the rapid mass extermination of their vast majority there during the last phase of the war helped turn the site into a central symbol of the Holocaust. The military situation in the summer of 1944 compelled Hungary’s Regent Miklós Horthy to halt deportations, and despite the large-scale violence instituted by the radically anti-Semitic Arrow Cross (Nyilaskeresztes) government of Ferenc Szálasi from October 1944 onwards, plans for the deportation of Budapest’s sizeable Jewish community were never implemented. There were close to 200,000 Jewish survivors in post-war Hungarian territories,4 and despite its steady decline in numbers afterwards, the Hungarian Jewish community remained among the biggest in Central-Eastern Europe. Thus, for the Israeli Court that tried Eichmann, it was almost impossible to find survivor witnesses who had been in contact with Eichmann during the war with the possible exception of those from Hungary.5 For these reasons, the Hungarian Holocaust became the most important chapter of the Eichmann trial.

This paper examines the trial’s effects on the formation of Holocaust memory in communist Hungary. While some academics assert that the memory of the Holocaust was completely suppressed in the Soviet Union6 and its Eastern European communist counterparts,7 others argue that it was normalized through presentations of the events as parts of a larger phenomenon.8 The idea that the Holocaust in Hungary was a taboo topic in communist Hungary has been a persistent thesis in academia, but some researchers have recently started to reassess this claim.9

This paper argues that, while the Kádár regime in Hungary did not intend to emphasize the Jewish catastrophe and certainly not to draw attention to its Hungarian chapter of 1944, there nevertheless emerged, as a consequence of the Eichmann trial, a narrative of the Hungarian Holocaust. Through the various organs of the press, this narrative found public expression. Thus, the thesis according to which the Holocaust was taboo does not hold up to sustained scrutiny. Though this Holocaust narrative can be considered ideologically loaded and distorted, some of its elements—especially the question of Hungarian collaboration with Eichmann’s Sondereinsatzkommando in the deportation of Hungarian Jews—continue to preoccupy historians who study the period today.

This paper approaches the subject from a comparative perspective, taking into account state policies and the coverage of the Eichmann trial in other bloc countries as well. The comparative perspective helps accentuate systemic (bloc-wide) and country-specific goals of the party, and thus separates the strength of general communist ideological determinants from local policy factors in the presentation of the Eichmann trial. The analysis concentrates on two aspects: what the highest echelons of communist parties intended to emphasize in the Hungarian interpretation of the trial, and what kind of interpretation appeared in the press. In the end, the party’s political goals were only partially achieved. Control over newspapers simply guaranteed that certain key propaganda themes were included, rather than ensuring that other narratives would be excluded. Owing to a variety of factors, a partial narrative of the Hungarian specificities of the Holocaust did surface in the media.

A Problem for the Bloc

As the communist regimes aimed to offer an interpretation of World War II which would not only fit their contemporary Cold War narrative, but would also correspond to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, the Eichmann case presented a challenge to them. Communist doctrine interpreted World War II as the struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism, but the proceedings of the trial focused first and foremost on Eichmann’s (and more broadly Nazi Germany’s) atrocities against Jews. That Jews were not targeted because of their political beliefs was hard to fit into the framework of the ideologically defined struggle put forward by the communists. The tension between these historical narratives posed a problem for all countries of the Eastern bloc on a systemic level.

Though there is no single coherent Marxist-Leninist theory of Fascism, it is possible to highlight some of the most important elements that Marxist thinkers and communist propagandists emphasized even well before World War II. Communist regimes were anti-fascist on an ideological basis, thus in their interpretation, World War II was first and foremost a fight between Fascism and anti-Fascism. During the interwar period, a number of Marxist theories described Fascism as a reactionary ideology supported by the petty bourgeoisie which aimed to crush the working class (which was opposed to capitalism).10 In the 1930s, Bulgarian communist leader George Dimitrov saw Fascism as the terroristic dictatorship of monopoly capitalism,11 while the official Comintern definition saw it as a tool of “finance capital” which aspired to create an organized mass basis.12 This strictly materialistic definition remained the official interpretation in communist countries until 1989.

After the war, the maintenance of the anti-fascist narrative had several functions in Eastern Europe. First, it served as a reminder of the successful struggle of communists in general, and the Soviet Union in particular, against Nazi Germany13 which was viewed not only as a military victory, but also a moral one.14 Furthermore, anti-Fascism was used to legitimize post-war communist rule by presenting it as the only guarantee against the resurgence of Fascism.15 Finally, the theoretical linkage between Fascism and capitalism served as a basis for attacks against Western European countries and the United States in the ideological battles of the Cold War. Communist regimes claimed that social oppression was not limited to Nazi Germany, but was inherent to all socio-economic structures based on capitalism. In the context of a struggle between Fascism and anti-Fascism, the persecution of Jews was never the primary focus of communist interpretations of the war.

The Eichmann trial posed another problem for “real socialist” states, in that Israel claimed the role of the main representative and articulator of Jewish interests. Each of the Eastern European communist countries still had Jewish communities (some larger, some smaller) living within its territory. That the most recent history of these communities would be interpreted through a framework defined by an Israeli court was highly undesirable for communist leaderships from a historical point of view. The editor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s main newspaper, Pravda, talked candidly with Israeli diplomats at the time of the trial about Soviet unwillingness to cooperate openly on that basis. “We are not interested in strengthening the impression that Israel is the main defender of the Jewish people. The Red Army saved thousands of Jews”, he was quoted as having said. 16 Furthermore, the political dimension raised further issues for communist propaganda with regards to the trial. Especially since the Suez Crisis of 1956 and because of the increasingly Western orientation of its foreign policies, Israel was viewed as the “mainstay of Western imperialism” in the Middle East.17 The country’s ever closer relations with West Germany since the 1950s were described by communist propaganda as evidence of the Jewish state’s clear pact with Communism’s archenemy in Europe.18 This situation, therefore, raised important practical questions for the whole bloc with regards to the trial. Communist states had to decide if they would collaborate with the Israeli court (for example, by providing it with documentation), and whether the authority of the Israeli court to pronounce judgment on Eichmann could or should be acknowledged at all, instead of insisting on the trial of Eichmann in Eastern Europe.

There were also certain country-specific problems that the capture of Adolf Eichmann and his trial presented for Eastern European leaders. A generic narrative of communists fighting a war against Fascism was especially inaccurate in the Hungarian context. As opposed to Czechoslovakia or Bulgaria, the home-bred communist movement in Hungary, which, according to this generic narrative, fought domestic “fascists,” was weak and received little support from the population. As opposed to Poland, a country “without a Quisling and, in all of Nazi-controlled Europe, the place least likely to assist the German war effort,”19 Hungary entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany and remained its ally despite the abortive attempt to switch sides in 1944. Thus, unlike Poland and Czechoslovakia, each of which produced considerable resistance movements during World War II, Hungary had only generated a weak and insignificant equivalent.20 All of these inconvenient details made any narrative of a widespread popular struggle against Fascism during World War II particularly hard to substantiate, and the Eichmann trial threatened to highlight these contradictions.

Other bloc countries were wary of the impending trial for other reasons. The German Democratic Republic (GDR), as the socialist German state and “Victor of History” (Sieger der Geschichte), “exempted itself from all political and historical responsibility for the German past.”21 For East Germany, the Eichmann case thus represented an unparalleled opportunity and a very dangerous situation at the same time. It was an opportunity to condemn publicly the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) as the sole ideological and political heir of Nazi Germany, as opposed to the GDR, “the only true anti-fascist state on German soil.”22 It was a danger because of the risk that leading or well-known East German political and intellectual personalities might be implicated at any point in the criminal process against Adolf Eichmann. In early 1960, perhaps as an answer to earlier East German accusations, the FRG government issued a Bulletin about former Nazis who had pursued remarkable careers in the GDR. The list included not only scholars, artists, members of the press and diplomatic services, but also several staff executives of the Communist Party. The bulletin mentioned 56 former NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) members in the East German parliament that had been elected in November 1958.23 Moreover, perhaps to a greater extent than countries of the bloc that had existed before 1945, the propaganda of the GDR especially favored a future-oriented approach to national identity based on the “concept of successful struggle rather than a commemoration of past sacrifices or an acknowledgement of past failures and defeats.”24 The criminal procedure against Adolf Eichmann forced GDR propagandists to turn back towards the past and engage with the politics of history.

In Poland, the socialist regime prioritized a narrative of Polish victimhood at the hands of Nazi occupiers during World War II.25 The Polish self-image as the “martyr of the nations” went back (at least) to the nineteenth century,26 and was strengthened by the brutality of the Nazi occupation regime during World War II.27 The political leadership used this historical imagery to legitimize the country’s post-war Western borders and to divert attention from the fact that the Soviet occupation of Poland during the war was also tragic. The emphasis on Eichmann’s crimes against Jews was a competing narrative of what had happened in occupied Poland, and as such particularly challenging from the point of view of this Polish self-image.

Given these bloc-wide and country-specific problems of historical interpretations, the looming Eichmann trial (and the question of the propaganda that should accompany it) was dealt with in the highest echelons of the party.

Propaganda Goals, Hungarian Political Decisions and Bloc-Level Considerations

Even before Eichmann was captured, there had been signals from Moscow and elsewhere in the bloc as to which issues would later become prominent during his trial. The GDR had long been campaigning against West Germany, but starting in 1956, East German propagandists unleashed a full-scale attack. They claimed that former Nazis were in positions of power in the Federal Republic. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported a secret meeting of the leaders of Jewish communities from Poland, Romania, Hungary and East Germany in Warsaw in early February 1960. According to Israeli information, the goal of the gathering had been to prepare a joint campaign against the Bonn government.28 Shortly after Eichmann’s capture was announced to the world, Soviet propaganda set out to attack West Germany, arguing that the country was trying to put a stop to the trial so as to prevent the exposure of ex-Nazis active in the ranks of the West German establishment.29

The targeting of the FRG stemmed from the Cold War power-balance, East Germany’s security concerns and its untenable economic and demographic situation at the time. Berlin was the only territory where the military forces of the two superpowers directly confronted each other, which caused increased tension between them. Despite the assertions of communist propaganda regarding the “crisis of capitalism,” the number of East German citizens escaping to the FRG was alarming for the political leaderships in both Berlin and Moscow.30 A recurrent theme of the USSR’s propaganda campaign against the FRG was the supposed resurgence of revanchism and militarism, signalling to some degree existing Soviet anxiety of a rearmed and nuclearized West Germany. In the light of these long-term Soviet strategies, it was predictable that during the Eichmann trial, the main propaganda goal in the bloc would be to attack the FRG.

Another element that was likely to appear in official communist comments on the Eichmann court procedure was a critical stance towards Israel. After a short period of what Uri Bialer described as “knocking on any door,” Israel’s foreign policies became increasingly oriented towards the West from about the beginning of the 1950s.31 During the Suez Crisis of 1956, Moscow sided with its Arab allies and after the war, Soviet-Israeli relations quickly deteriorated to an unprecedented low.32 Israel became the subject of insulting attacks in the Soviet media as an aggressor, alongside France and Britain, who had also participated in the invasion of Egypt. Furthermore, the USSR government was also trying to counter Soviet Jewish aspirations for emigration with an active anti-Israel propaganda campaign.33 The hostility towards the Jewish State would be sustained during the Eichmann trial.

In all probability, the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP KB Külügyi Osztály) was well aware of these trends, and it was the first organ of Hungary’s bureaucratic apparatus to work out a plan of action to deal with the Eichmann case. Their first proposal to the Politburo on June 24, 1960 suggested that Hungary should ask for the extradition of Eichmann from Israel so that he could be tried by a Hungarian court, with the rationale that he committed a great majority of his crimes against humanity in that country. 34 A trial held in Hungary would have also made it possible to control the ways in which evidence was presented, in other words how Eichmann’s activities in Hungary were narrated. The draft also proposed consultations with Czechoslovakia and Poland, two other bloc countries that were major sites of Eichmann’s activities during the war.35 However, after some brief deliberations with the Foreign Ministries of these two states and the Soviet Union, the initial plan to request Eichmann’s extradition was dropped because of the potential loss of prestige for the socialist states if Israel refused. Though the Czechoslovaks originally considered supporting the extradition request, Polish authorities ruled it out because the plan would not have “the slightest prospect of success, also because such a procedure would mean taking part in the conflict between Argentina and Israel,36 and because such a claim might bring about a counter claim by the Federal Republic of Germany, which is undesirable.”37 Instead, it was decided that any explicit recognition of the Israeli court’s jurisdiction was to be avoided.38 Such recognition would have run counter to the general position of socialist states, according to which Israel had no right to speak on behalf of world Jewry.

Given its strained relations with the state of Israel, the Hungarian government was unsure if it should fulfill the Israeli court’s request for documentation on Eichmann’s activities in the territory of Hungary during the war. Though Czechoslovakia insisted on publishing the materials first, Czechoslovakia and Hungary both provided Israel with the materials indirectly, through two semi-official organizations the names of which clearly mirror the official narratives of World War II. The National Committee of Persons Persecuted by Nazism in Hungary (Nácizmus Magyarországi Üldözötteinek Országos Bizottsága) and the Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters in Czechoslovakia39 (Svaz Protifašistických Bojovníků) were not affiliated with the Jewish communities or any Jewish organization for that matter. In Hungary, a volume entitled Eichmann in Hungary: Documents by Jenő Lévai appeared in English, German and French in March, 1961, clearly targeting Western audiences.40 It signalled an attempt by the Hungarian government to hold its grip over the historical memory of the war, and made clear that the Eichmann case would not be an occasion to emphasize the Jewishness of the majority of the war’s Hungarian victims. The resolution of the Hungarian Politburo of June 28, 1960 clearly outlined that the propaganda concerning the Eichmann trial should not focus on the historical narrative but on contemporary political goals. According to the resolution, “in view of neo-fascist symptoms visible in the life of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Zionist nature of the Israeli government’s foreign and domestic policy, [the case] must be used to strengthen the antifascist front against fascist efforts.”41

István Szirmai, the substitute member of the Politburo responsible for culture and ideology, suggested a way to connect Israel’s “Zionist policies” with the history of the war. His interest in the topic is unsurprising. Szirmai was born into a Jewish family in 1906 in the small town of Zilah (Zalău) in Transylvania. Although he started his political career in the Socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement before the war, he later joined the Romanian Communist Party. The early 1940s found him in Budapest, living illegally as the liaison between Transylvanian communists and the Hungarian Communist Party. After spending the second half of the war in prison, Szirmai transferred to the Hungarian communists and acted as the party’s functionary unofficially responsible for “Zionist affairs” during the Rákosi period. His position toward Zionism was not in the least bit friendly at that time. He proposed to ban all Zionist organizations on the grounds that they were “spreading bourgeois nationalism, adding to the emigration craze through their organizations, smuggling hard currency, ‘rescuing property,’ and damaging the forint.”42 In the course of a private meeting with two ultra-left Zionist emissaries from Palestine in the late 1940s, Szirmai also opined that Zionism was “a dangerous ideology based on disregard for realities.” He prophesized that in a couple of years’ time, “nobody would consider himself Jewish in Hungary.”43 Ironically, Szirmai was imprisoned for his “Zionist activities” by Mátyás Rákosi at the beginning of 1953, when Rákosi was planning a Hungarian Zionist show trial similar to the Doctors’ Plot in the USSR and the Slánský trial in Czechoslovakia. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that during the Politburo meeting in 1960, Szirmai highlighted that


there are certain matters which severely compromise the Israeli government and the Zionist movement. Eichmann knows about these things, and the Israelis don’t want them to come to light. Such factors also exist. There was that Kaszner [sic] affair, whom the Israeli government had shot in order to shut him up.44


Rezső (Rudolf) Kasztner was a Jewish journalist from Transylvania who was a member of the Hungarian Zionist movement. At an early age, he joined the youth group Barissia, the members of which were preparing to become citizens of the envisioned future state of Israel. During the war, Kasztner moved to Budapest, where, as a member of the Jewish Rescue and Aid Committee, he tried to help Jewish refugees obtain exit visas to go to Palestine. In 1944, he successfully negotiated with Eichmann the transport of one train with 1,658 Jews on it to neutral Switzerland.45

Szirmai was suggesting at the Politburo session that Kasztner was assassinated because, as a supporter of the Zionist movement during the war, he had cooperated with the Nazis to save wealthy Jews from extermination. He implied that the Israeli government had arranged Kasztner’s death to prevent him from revealing this connection between Zionism and Nazism. Contrary to Szirmai’s claims, Rezső Kasztner was shot in Tel Aviv by a young supporter of the extreme right wing, Zeev Eckstein, and not on the orders of the Israeli government, of which Kasztner was a member as a spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation. Szirmai’s version of the story is therefore rather absurd, but nevertheless highlights a possible avenue through which the unfriendliness of communist leaderships towards the state of Israel in the 1960s could influence their official narratives about World War II.

At the same Politburo meeting, General Secretary of the party János Kádár also touched upon the question of historical interpretations of the Hungarian Holocaust that should be brought forward in official propaganda. He emphasized that


[i]t’s not a good idea to turn these awful fascist affairs into an exclusively Jewish question. If we do act in this affair, the decisive thing should be that Eichmann murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian citizens... Eichmann did not only murder Jews, there were others there, too. This is not a Jewish question; this is the question of fascism and anti-fascism.46

By emphasizing the fascist/anti-fascist struggle, Kádár indicated that he intended to strictly follow the official communist interpretation.

Although it is true that more than half a million Jewish victims of the Holocaust were Hungarians, one problematic part of Kádár’s statement was his assertion that they had been citizens. The majority of Hungary’s Holocaust victims were killed because they were considered Jewish, and not because of their Hungarian nationality (or citizenship), as Kádár’s remark implies. The General Secretary also overlooked the fact that by 1944, the elected governments of the Hungarian state had deprived Jews of most of the rights citizens would usually enjoy, restricting their access to employment, education and property, and curbing their right to free movement and marriage.47

This illustrates an especially problematic part of the Hungarian communist state’s attitudes toward the war. Kádár’s regime condemned the Horthy establishment as fascist, but it placed the blame for the alliance with Nazi Germany on “the ruling classes” and their oppression and manipulation of the proletariat and the peasantry. At the same time, it negated official governmental attempts in the course of the war to achieve an armistice48 and overlooked the general public’s acceptance and, in many cases, endorsement of anti-Semitic policies. Kádár’s presentation thus deliberately ignored the domestic political roots of and popular support for Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, which offered territorial revisions for Hungary’s benefit, because these details of history did not fit into the communist narrative of the war and would have undermined the Communist Party’s claim for legitimacy in Hungary, built on the myth of widespread anti-fascist resistance.

Successful Attainment of Propaganda Goals: the Implication of the Federal Republic of Germany

Though it has been argued in academic literature that propaganda always reflected the policy goals of the communist leadership,49 in the post-Stalinist context, the two certainly should not be equated. The following pages present the Hungarian media coverage of the Eichmann trial’s court proceedings in four dailies (Népszabadság, Népszava, Magyar Nemzet and Esti Hírlap), on the national Radio Kossuth, and in the official journal of the Jewish community: Új Élet.50 Népszabadság was the national paper of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, while Esti Hírlap unofficially belonged to the Party’s Budapest unit and the municipal leadership of the capital (Fővárosi Tanács) and was more like a tabloid. Népszava was the official daily of the trade unions and, thus, its target audience was the workers. Magyar Nemzet was the newspaper of the Patriotic Peoples’ Front (Hazafias Népfront) and essentially addressed the intelligentsia. As mentioned above, Új Élet was the official paper of the Jewish religious community, though it operated under strict political supervision. Hungarian media covered the trial very thoroughly, with about seventy articles in the aforementioned papers appearing during the trial and one hundred and thirty-seven articles altogether in the period beginning with the capture of Eichmann and ending with his execution (see Table 1).

Three journalists were allowed by the government to be present at the court in Jerusalem: Tibor Pethő of Magyar Nemzet, László Koncsek of the Hungarian Radio and Sándor Barcs from the Hungarian News Agency (Magyar Távirati Iroda). Tibor Pethő was the son of Sándor Pethő, the founder of Magyar Nemzet, and had worked for the paper as the editor of foreign news reports between 1952 and 1957. He was among those who supported Imre Nagy during the revolutionary events of 1956 and was even a member of the National Alliance of Hungarian Journalists (Magyar Újságírók Országos Szövetsége) that negotiated with the Kádár government in 1957, trying to convince them to allow certain banned newspapers to be published again. The negotiations bore no fruit and Pethő was then employed by Hétfői Hírek, a newspaper of little significance. He was reinstated to Magyar Nemzet in 1960 and thus the coverage of the Eichmann trial was his first major assignment. The politicians responsible for Hungarian cultural policies probably speculated that Pethő would follow the principles set by the regime in his reports on the Eichmann trial. Sándor Barcs, who had been a fellow traveller of the Smallholder’s Party before the communist takeover in 1948, was the head of the Hungarian News Agency (Magyar Távirati Iroda), as well as a representative in Parliament and, as of 1959, a member of the Presidential Committee (Elnöki Tanács). Thus, he was a safe choice to toe the line defined by the Politburo when covering the proceedings of the trial. László Koncsek was an editor of the Hungarian radio and a specialist on the Middle East, though he mostly wrote travel diaries.

However, many others also wrote about the trial: more than twenty other journalists and historians produced articles or reports. Among them were Ilona Benoschofsky, head of the Hungarian Jewish Museum, who wrote five articles for Új Élet, and Jenő Lévai, who was considered an authority on the history of Fascism and World War II in Hungary and the author of the aforementioned collection of Hungarian archival documents on the Holocaust published in 1961.51


…the trial



Magyar Nemzet

Új Élet

Esti Hírlap




































Table 1: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (no. of articles)


An analysis of the articles that appeared on some aspect or aspects of the Eichmann trial reveals the extent to which the party line described above was followed and the degree to which the Kádár regime successfully controlled the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust.

Hungarian media put great emphasis on the critique of West Germany. That former Nazis were still occupying high positions in West Germany was the most common topic in the Hungarian coverage of the proceedings, appearing in almost half of the articles on the Eichmann case (see Table 2). Új Élet noted, for instance, “with regards to Eichmann’s case, attention must be drawn to the situation in West Germany and the unchanged activities of the rest of the Nazi criminals.”52 The press also targeted specific individuals in the West German political establishment. It claimed that out of 17 West-German Ministers and Secretaries of State, “12 belonged to the leadership of the Nazi Party” and that “among the admirals and generals of the Bundeswehr, 40 had served in Hitler’s Wehrmacht.53 The politicians in question were frequently mentioned by name, among them Hans Globke, one of the closest aides to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and a man who played an important role in drafting anti-Semitic laws at the Ministry of the Interior during the Nazi period, and Gerhard Schröder, Minister of the Interior. Accusations against Schröder were not new, as his Nazi past had been aired years before, even in the West.54


…the trial








Reporting on the trial itself








Eichmann’s earlier life and career, Eichmann’s activities in Hungary, Holocaust








Alliance between wealthy Jews and Nazis during World War II








Critique of West Germany








Critique of other Western countries

and organizations (Austria, USA, NATO)








Critique of Israel (alliance with West Germany)








Critique of Zionism









1 Of all the articles that appeared during the period under investigation (i.e. before, during or after the trial), what percentage of the total number of articles dealt with the given issue. The total number of articles is in Table 1.

Table 2: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (issues)


The focus on the critique of West Germany was perfectly in line with the interpretation by Soviet media, which held that during the Eichmann trial, “attempts were made to not reveal former Nazis”55 and that Chancellor Adenauer permitted “yesterday’s assistants of Hitler, Himmler and Kaltenbrunner to occupy leading posts”56 in the Federal Republic. According to the contemporary press analysis of B’nai B’rith,


the press treatment of the Eichmann case in the Soviet Union prior to the opening of the trial on April 11 was marked by 1) relative paucity; 2) an emphasis upon an alleged relationship between Eichmann’s crimes and present-day rulers of West-Germany; and 3) a general minimization of Eichmann’s crimes against Jews compared with his crimes against people generally. These features continued after the trial began.57

Likewise, in the German Democratic Republic, the trial in Jerusalem served as a pretext to attack the political elite of the Federal Republic: a Jewish-German lawyer, Friedrich Karl Kaul was sent to Jerusalem to present compromising documents on Hans Globke,58 and many brochures on the issue were published at home.59 For instance, right after Eichmann’s capture, East Berlin propagandists quickly produced two pamphlets entitled “Globke and the Extermination of the Jews” [Globke und die Ausrottung der Juden] and “New Proof of Globke’s Crimes against the Jews” [Neue Beweise for Globkes Verbrechen gegen die Juden]. The Israeli prosecution was approached by the East Germans to allow Kaul to join the team as an adviser, but Attorney General Gideon Hausner rejected the request on the grounds that there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and East Germany.60

The Czechoslovak news agency Ceteka emphasized on the occasion of Eichmann’s execution in 1962 that the trial had not been carried out “to the full” despite the death sentence. According to Ceteka, “fascist groups” in the FRG and some other Western countries not only offered financial support to Eichmann’s counsel, Dr. Servatius, but also “moral support” in the Western press.61

It is thus clear that the denunciation of West Germany was a priority in communist states. The press and the propaganda machinery reacted in unison with well-known accusations that did not present anything new in addition to the countries’ previous positions towards the FRG. Most of the accusations were not only old, but had already been published in the West as well.

Closely connected to accusations against the Adenauer government for having forgiven and even having been supportive of former Nazis was the presentation of Israel as a collaborator with West Germany. This was a much more complicated issue, as the task of communist propaganda here was to criticize Israel without appearing anti-Semitic. Journalist Tibor Pethő remembered that before they were sent off to Jerusalem to report on the trial, István Szirmai had instructed them to be careful not to incite anti-Semitic feelings among the Hungarian population.62

The issue of Israeli–West German collaboration appeared twenty-two times in Hungarian newspapers and radio programs during the period under investigation, making it the fourth most salient issue. The articles claimed that, in order to preserve good relations between Israel and West Germany, Israeli authorities made sure that Eichmann’s confessions would not affect certain high-ranking German politicians negatively.63 According to one article, Ben Gurion “met Adenauer with a secretive smile on his face and he contentedly patted the side pocket of his jacket as he left. If one had looked into it (the pocket), one would have found a check for about 500 million [Deutsche] Marks.”64 According to another report, “[t]he Eichmann-trial, instead of becoming the trial of the general condemnation of Fascism, turned into a West German–Israeli affair. Behind the trial, there are shady economic and political interests that are seldom revealed.”65 Not only did the Hungarian press criticize the Israeli leadership for “collaboration” with West Germany, certain articles also implied that the elites of Hungary’s Jewish population had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. Magyar Nemzet elaborated on this issue as follows:


Ferenc Chorin,66 who had been arrested by the Gestapo, and his “interrogator” Kurt Becher, SS-lieutenant-colonel, negotiated for weeks. Several arrested members of the Hungarian plutocracy joined the meetings. Rich capitalists who were still free also took part in the negotiations in the prison… The group of rich capitalists arrived in Lisbon on June 25 [1944] on a German private plane. A day before, the removal of everyday Jewish people had been completed in Budapest, and two days later, the first phase of the Eichmann mission ended with the deportation of 420 thousand people to Auschwitz. Hitlerite Fascism, while loudly condemning “plutocratic” capitalists, killed the workers with one hand and saved the capitalists with the other, proving its real class character.67

Taken together with depictions of “shady economic and political interests” behind the trial, the Hungarian press coverage not only asserted continuity between Nazi Germany and the FRG, but also implied a similar continuity between the behavior of Jewish leadership in East-Central Europe during World War II and that of the leading Israeli politicians in the 1960s. The relations between Israel and West Germany, as well as a few selected members of the Hungarian Jewish community and Nazi officers during World War II, expressed in such images are reminiscent of older anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews as worldly, greedy and involved in questionable business transactions “behind the scenes.” The victims appear first and foremost as members of the working class, and the fact that they were deported on the basis of race is underplayed. At the same time, one gets the impression that all Jewish members of the capitalist higher elites were exempted from persecution as a result of secret negotiations. Even if we accept that the Hungarian Politburo indeed did not want to incite anti-Semitic feelings, such reports, which featured quite prominently among those before the trial (see Table 2), clearly made use of anti-Semitic imagery. In that sense, the bloc-wide use of propaganda to draw links between Nazi Germany, the FRG and Israel (and the determination to frame wartime deaths in the context of class) had the potential to override the Hungarian state’s intention to separate criticisms of Israel from anti-Semitism.

A Less Successful Implementation of Propaganda: Public Memory and the Holocaust Narrative

As Table 2 reveals, before the trial took place, the historical narrative of Eichmann’s activities in Hungary and, closely related to that, the ghettoization and deportation of Jews to Auschwitz dominated the discourse in the Hungarian press. More than sixty percent of the articles addressed these issues, making the history of the Holocaust in Hungary the most prominent theme. The articles revealed a lot of information on Eichmann’s activities before and during his Hungarian mission, as well as particulars about his relations with the leadership of the Hungarian state administration and the Budapest Jewish Council. Information about these details was available to the journalists due to a remarkable amount of publications that had been produced in the immediate postwar years,68 material to which some of the press articles explicitly referred.69

A dominant narrative in these pre-trial historical accounts in the Hungarian press portrays the behavior of the Hungarian state administration. “At the beginning of April 1944, in a meeting room of the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior,” reported Esti Hírlap, State Secretaries “László Endre, László Baky, the leaders of the gendarmerie and the German specialists gathered for a meeting to decide about deportations and discuss the details.”70 At that same meeting, an agitated Regent Horthy is quoted in Népszava as having said, in reference to the Jews of Hungary, “[o]ut with them from the country!”71 Népszabadság claimed that Eichmann’s special commando “counted on the help of the Sztójay government [for ghettoization], but it was a welcome surprise for them that the Hungarian government voluntarily provided the services of 20,000 gendarmes.”72 Not only was the Hungarian state administration presented as a willing partner of Eichmann, but on several occasions, as initiator of the deportations of the country’s Jews. For example, Eichmann was quoted as having claimed that “he had promised László Endre that not a single Jew would remain alive,”73 implying that the issue was more important to the Hungarian State Secretary of the Ministry of the Interior than to the Obersturmbannführer. As for the period following the takeover of power by the Arrow Cross movement, Esti Hírlap reported that Eichmann and his men “found in Szálasi and his men like-minded souls.”74

The leadership of the Hungarian state administration, members of the national socialist Arrow Cross (nyilaskeresztes) movement, and Regent Horthy himself were all referred to as fascists. There appeared to be no distinction between the ideas represented by the Regent, who was still in power when the deportations began (and whose political stance was based on a conservative-Christian set of values that fed on the traditions of the Hungarian nobility), the Sztójay government (which collaborated with the Germans in the implementation of the Holocaust) and Arrow Cross leader Ferenc Szálasi’s premiership (which instituted large-scale violence against Jews).

The terminology dated back to the People’s Courts (népbíróság) of the early postwar years, which were established to prosecute war criminals, but came under strong communist influence.75 In addition to convicting war criminals, they also aimed to discredit the entire Horthy period, and with that, the political adversaries of the communists, while not addressing the problem that broad segments of the Hungarian population had supported many of the ideas and policies of the Horthy regime.76 The transformation of the Horthy era into a “fascist dictatorship” tantamount to that of Hitler and Mussolini continued in Hungarian historiography during the Rákosi period.77

During its early years, the Kádár regime maintained this narrative, and its first interpretations of the 1956 “counter-revolution” established continuity between the White Terror that followed the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, the “fascist” Horthy regime and the events of October 1956. According to official publications that appeared in Hungary between 1957 and 1959, the outbreak of the “counter-revolution” was linked to the infiltration of Hungary by fascist elements from the West and the re-emergence of domestic Hungarian fascists from the Horthy era and the Arrow Cross movement.78 The masses were tricked by the “nationalist, chauvinist, and anti-Soviet” catchwords used by the clandestine fascists in order to gain support. The February 1957 “Resolution of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party with regards to Current Questions and Tasks” referred to the October events as a “counter-revolution” but attributed the actions of the population to a smaller group of provocateurs.79 This minority of inimical elements, the party narrative maintained, “using the dissatisfaction of the masses caused by the previous party leadership’s mistakes, aimed to confuse the working masses’ class consciousness with chauvinist, nationalist, revisionist, anti-Semitic and other bourgeois counterrevolutionary ideas.”80 In order to substantiate the interpretation of the 1956 revolution as having been instigated by (domestic and returning foreign) fascists, Kádár’s propaganda exaggerated their presence and influence during the Horthy era. Therefore, even though the Kádár regime did not prioritize the narration of the Hungarian Holocaust in relation to the Eichmann trial, the reiteration of earlier claims about the strong alliance between Horthy’s establishment and Nazi Germany, as well as the “fascism” of the former did correspond to other propaganda goals of the time related to the 1956 revolution.

After the Eichmann trial began in April 1961, however, the historical narrative spectacularly lost its prominence in the Hungarian press. Close to ninety percent of all the articles that presented the historical narrative appeared before the trial. At the same time, Hungarian propaganda was especially unsuccessful at having the Eichmann trial presented not as “a deportation story but an attack on the reviving West-German imperialism and its Nazi cadres,”81 and the trial’s certain details as a series of events that happened to “Hungarian citizens.” Such a goal would have been hard to achieve because, during the course of the trial in Jerusalem, the fact that the great majority of the Eichmann’s victims were Jews came to the fore.

The proceedings, witnesses and supporting documents of the trial became predominantly focused on the persecution of Jews during World War II. For instance, the trial highlighted the fact that Hungarian authorities had discriminated specifically against Jews with numerous anti-Semitic measures. During one session, a document presented to the Presiding Judge described a debate in the Hungarian Parliament from December 1942 on the question of labor camps for Jews and the ban on Christian women from work in Jewish homes. During the same session, another document revealed that Jewish intellectuals had been made to perform forced labor in Hungary in 1943.82 Furthermore, some eyewitness accounts mentioned the economic interests of some of the Hungarian population in acquiring Jewish property as a result of deportations. Hansi Brand remembered one of the marches on foot when thousands of Jews had been driven through the streets by the SS.83 When asked about how the Hungarian public had reacted to the scene, Brand answered that “[s]ome just stared at them dully—they were the better ones; the others were pleased that those who had been bombed out were going to have nice Jewish flats.” 84 This kind of narrative ran counter to Kádár’s grouping of all victims under the undifferentiated category of “Hungarian citizens.” On the contrary, it revealed that Jews were explicit targets of legal discrimination, that different groups within Hungarian society had different interests, and that the persecution of one group could mean potential economic gain for another.

As a result of the thematic focus of the trial in Jerusalem, very few articles during the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian press dealt with non-Jewish (or non-specified, general) suffering only. Even if one part of a certain article only mentioned the victimization of citizens in general, some other part of the piece usually revealed that they were indeed Jews. Népszabadság reported first on Hungarian issues that were discussed during the trial. One article provides a fine example of how the Party line and the story of the Jewish Holocaust both appeared within one text. When introducing the Hungarian period of Eichmann’s activities, the newspaper claimed that the documents of the prosecution had revealed “the bloody and dirty details of Eichmann’s reign of terror in Hungary...” including “the tragic history of four hundred thousand Hungarians who were killed in gas chambers and during death marches.”85 This kind of phrasing followed the party line introduced by Kádár. Yet the same report later described negotiations with the leaders of the Jewish religious community in March 1944, just days after the German invasion. The article presented how Eichmann’s subordinates had claimed that “‘[n]othing will happen to the Jews,’ they said, ‘with the exception of a few restrictive measures. Please calm the Jews down.’ At the end of May... deportations began.”86 Despite the vagueness in the introduction, the most common feature of the Hungarians killed in gas chambers—their Jewishness—was eventually made quite clear.

To determine the level of relativization of Jewish victimhood during the war, I examine newspaper reports that discuss both Jewish and unspecified or general victimhood in the same article. Before the trial, 36 articles dealt with victimhood during the war, out of which 55.6 percent (20) dealt only with Jewish victimhood, 13.9 percent (5) dealt only with unspecified victimhood and 30.5 percent (11) dealt with both issues. During the trial, 33 articles dealt with victimhood during the war, out of which 72.7 percent (24) dealt only with Jewish victimhood, 21.2 percent (7) dealt only with unspecified victimhood and only 6.1 percent (2) dealt with both issues (See Table 3). It is clear that articles and programs that dealt exclusively with Jewish victimhood were much more pronounced during the trial than before it. The first reports about the trial’s presentation of Eichmann’s activities in Hungary during World War II claimed that “Eichmann was the lord of life and death in Budapest and the despot of Hungarian Jews,”87 and, more specifically, that “Eichmann traveled to Budapest in 1944 personally to supervise the deportation of Jews.”88 Eyewitness accounts were quoted that also concentrated on Jewish persecution. According to an article in Magyar Nemzet, “Eyewitness accounts presented last Friday at the Nazi mass murderer’s trial revealed that Eichmann beat to death a Jewish boy who stole cherries from his garden in the shed of his Budapest villa in 1944.”89

Coverage of non-Jewish suffering and combined coverage (i.e. Jewish and non-Jewish suffering in one article or radio program) were much more frequent before the trial. This suggests that, because the information and conclusions resulting from the trial were determined by the Israeli attorneys, the Hungarian regime lost control over the terms of reference, and this in turn led to an increase in the number of reports and stories dealing with Jewish victimhood in the Hungarian press. The trial simply did not provide Hungarian journalists with sufficient material to allow them to focus on general/unspecified victimhood.


…the trial




Mentions Jewish victimhood during the war




Mentions only Jewish victimhood during the war




Mentions unspecified/general victimhood during the war




Mentions only unspecified/general victimhood during the war




Mentions Jewish and general victimhood during the war





Table 3: Coverage of the Eichmann trial in the Hungarian media (Holocaust)


Using the Kasztner case to imply close links between Zionists and Nazi officers in Hungary was another part of the propaganda strategy that failed. The Israeli court was very cautious not to involve Kasztner’s case in the proceedings. The whole Kasztner problem signified a deep ideological split in Israeli society and politics between the nationalist right wing and socialist-Zionist left wing. At any rate, the court was not likely to be particularly sympathetic to Kasztner; Judge Benjamin Halevi had also been the President of the Court at the Grünwald trial, in which the Israeli government had sued Malkiel Grünwald for libel against Rezső (Rudolf) Kasztner. Famously, the trial ended with Halevi ruling that three out of the four charges were true, therefore not libellous. These were: collaboration with the Nazis; “indirect murder” or “preparing the ground for the murder” of Hungary’s Jews, and saving a war criminal (Kurt Becher) from punishment after the war.90 The judge was also quoted as having said that Kasztner “sold his soul to the devil.”91 The trial shook the Israeli public and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Moshe Sharett in 1955. The government appealed to the Supreme Court immediately after Halevi had read out the ruling. However, it took another three years for a new verdict, which overturned most of the judgment against Kasztner. On March 3, 1957, well before that judgement was released, Kasztner was shot, and he died two weeks later. To avoid the possibility of a similar scandal, witnesses who would have been too supportive or too inimical to Kasztner were not invited to testify at the Eichmann trial.92 With the elimination of the Kasztner case, Hungarian propagandists lost their main angle for criticizing the Hungarian Zionist movement.

A comparison with Polish media coverage of the Eichmann trial helps provide a nuanced view of its presentation by the Hungarian press. Like the Hungarian, Polish media attempted to present the Holocaust in a manner that did not contradict the narrative of Polish victimhood by emphasizing the special significance of Poland in the Jewish genocide. Trybuna Ludu pointed out that


Polish territories have a special place in the history of the extermination of Jews. The very first acts of extermination were committed on Polish Jews. In the first phase of the criminal plan the persecutions were directed against both the non-Jewish and Jewish population of Poland.93

Yet according to the aforementioned report by B’nai B’rith, “[w]hile criticism of the current West German Government and its alleged links to Eichmann is to be found in the [Polish] press coverage, Jewish martyrdom is the dominant theme.”94 Though the report has to be evaluated with consideration of its biases originating in the Cold War situation, other sources confirm this claim. A journalist named Kazimierz Kąkol covered the Eichmann trial for the paper “Law and Life” (Prawo i Życie), and a book based on his dispatches was published in 1962 under the title “Eichmann’s Road to Beit Ha’am” (Adolfa Eichmanna droga do Beit Haam). The publication sharply criticized the Israeli government’s way of conducting the trial and accused it of cooperation with the FRG, but it also pointed out the distinctiveness of the Jewish genocide.95 Based on a rereading of various Polish literary and academic pieces of the period, social anthropologist Annamaria Orla-Bukowska also argued that, while these texts only reached a limited audience, “the Holocaust actually began to enter public discourse… in the wake of the Eichmann trial.”96 Thus, Hungary was not the only country in the bloc where the Eichmann case opened up possibilities to acknowledge the Holocaust.

Perhaps more so than in Poland, however, the press in Hungary discussed Jewish victimhood without pairing it with a specific national tragedy narrative distinct from communist ideology. In Hungary, non-Jews who might have felt that they had suffered during the war were supposed to fit into one of two the categories: the working class or the communists. Those who did not consider themselves members of either of these two groups could not identify with the story of World War II presented by the Hungarian media.

Conclusions: Hungarian Policies, Propaganda and the Eichmann Case

This paper has examined the trial of Adolf Eichmann and its presentation in the Hungarian press. Communist ideology’s anti-Fascism defined its stance as “anti-anti-Semitic,” yet the revolutionary commitment of Marxism-Leninism created a framework for an interpretation of World War II which conceptualized the conflict as one between two opposing, ideologically defined camps (fascists and anti-fascists). Consequently, it was difficult to accommodate the idea of non-political victimhood, i.e. the destruction of Jews based on racist ideas and not because of their political commitments. This represented a problem for communist propaganda during the Eichmann trial, a process that highlighted the destruction of Jews as the worst crime of the Nazi regime.

Because of the Cold War situation, during which West Germany emerged as Communism’s main “enemy” in Europe, bloc-wide attempts to control the interpretation of the trial focused on the perpetrators, whom they hoped to connect with the government of the FRG. The identity of the victims was a secondary question—and this led to the relativization of Jewish victimhood—yet it was not actively suppressed.

Despite János Kádár’s speech at the Politburo, in which he warned against emphasizing the Jewish theme, Hungarian press reports during the trial repeatedly revealed who the primary victims of Nazi persecution had been. The trial’s thematization of Eichmann’s activities during World War II and eyewitness accounts about Hungary made such revelations rather difficult for the Hungarian press to avoid. This was all the more so because some elements of the story that emerged in the Jerusalem courtroom did not contradict or hamper the goals of the Hungarian leadership. Eichmann was judged guilty even before his trial had begun, both in Israel97 and in Hungary. The Hungarian witnesses carefully chosen by the Israeli court described, in great detail, the “cruelty of the Germans,”98 just as communist propaganda emphasized the brutality of Fascism. Thus, acknowledgement of Jewish victimhood as presented during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, however limited, allowed for the surfacing of at least a partial Holocaust narrative in Hungary: the trial effectively brought knowledge of the Holocaust to the broader Hungarian public through the coverage that was given in numerous major newspapers.

The possible reasons for the emergence of this partial Holocaust narrative could be found in various factors. The lack of a considerable anti-fascist resistance movement and widespread anti-Bolshevik sentiments among the population during the 1940s made the communist anti-fascist narrative completely incongruous with details of Hungarian history that were revealed at the trial. The Israeli court’s effective control over what was being said in the courtroom made it nearly impossible for the Hungarian journalists who were present at the trial not to present Jews as the primary targets of Nazi extermination policies.

Just as the Polish state instrumentalized Auschwitz as a political site of memory for World War II, the Hungarian regime attempted to use the Eichmann trial to strengthen (indirectly) its narrative of 1956. The Kádár administration, in particular, wanted to focus on the perpetrators to showcase “fascist elements” in society that, according to its narrative, had been responsible both for many wartime deaths and for the 1956 revolution. This propaganda goal was apparent especially during the months prior to the trial, when the historical account of World War II in Hungary was a frequently recurring theme in the Hungarian press. The wartime governments’ discriminatory actions were frequently depicted as targeting communists and the working class in general. The extensive use of the term “fascist” effectively diluted its meaning (which came to signify anyone opposed to communist policies) and prevented a meaningful discussion of the sources of anti-Semitic policies in Hungary during the Horthy period. As the deportation of Jews was blamed on a few in power, any discussion of the behavior of broader segments of Hungarian society was hindered. These Kádárist policies infantilized the public and suggested that social norms against anti-Semitism were relative or even inconsequential.

Despite its obvious omissions and distortions, the Kádár regime’s critique of the Hungarian government’s behavior during the last part of the war brought important points to light. Members of the Hungarian state administration were not “fascists,” but they bore responsibility for the extermination of the country’s Jews. The Kádárist narrative tried to incorporate the Holocaust into Hungarian history (rather than just treating it as part of Jewish or German history), but also tried to frame the anti-Semitism of the period as an element of Fascism and something that the communists had defeated, both in 1945 and 1956. This narrative may be ideologically loaded, but it should not be dismissed as complete fiction, much less as entirely tabooizing the Holocaust.



Primary Sources


Minutes of the Meetings of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Secret Documents, Hungarian National Archives

Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, Israel State Archives

Records of Radio Free Europe, Czechoslovak Unit, Open Society Archives

Records of Radio Free Europe, Hungarian Unit, Open Society Archives


Esti Hírlap

Magyar Nemzet



Új Élet

Time Magazine


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Yablonka, Hanna. The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann. New York: Schocken, 2004.

1 David Cesarani, ed., After Eichmann. Collective Memory and the Holocaust after 1961 (London–New York: Routledge, 2005), 1.

2 Michael Rothberg, “Beyond Eichmann: Rethinking the emergence of Holocaust memory,” in History and Theory 46, no. 1 (2007): 74.

3 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (New York: Viking Press, 1963).

4 Tamás Stark, “A magyar zsidóság a vészkorszakban és a második világháború után,” in Regio. Kisebbség, politika, társadalom 4, no. 3 (1993): 140–51.

5 It must be noted that the Israeli court’s choice of witnesses was strategic and influenced by politics. For details see: Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), esp. 88–120. Thirteen witnesses of Hungarian origin testified during the trial. Pinhas (previously Fülöp) Freudiger, who had been the head of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest from 1939. After the German invasion, he was appointed to the Jewish Council of Budapest. He and his family escaped to Romania in August, 1944 and settled in Israel after the war. Dr. Alexander (previously Sándor) Bródy, a writer who was assigned to labor service during the war and served as the director of the Joint-funded National Hungarian Jewish Aid Action (Országos Magyar Zsidó Segítő Akció, O.M.ZS.A.) from 1944. He left Hungary in 1949 and settled in Brazil. Mrs. Elisheva (Erzsébet) Szenes, a Slovakian-born journalist who escaped to Budapest but was then captured by the SS and sent to Auschwitz. She survived and settled in Israel after the war. Margit Reich whose husband perished in Auschwitz. She lived in Givatayim, Israel at the time of the trial but her children remained in Hungary. Dr. Martin Földi, a lawyer who was taken to Auschwitz. He moved to Israel after the war. Ze’ev Sapir, who was born in the village of Dobradovo, near the town of Munkács. He was deported to Auschwitz and subsequently sent to the Jaworzno labor camp. After surviving the war, he emigrated to Israel and worked with Youth Aliyah as a youth leader and teacher. Avraham Gordon, who was a minor living in Budapest during the war, and was forced to work at Eichmann’s villa in Buda. He was living in Israel at the time of the trial and worked at the Timna Copper Works. Dr. Tibor Ferencz, lawyer, who served as Prosecutor with the People’s Prosecution Office (Népbíróság) after the war and was present at the trials of László Baky and László Endre. He moved to Israel in 1957. Joel Brand, who was born in Naszód, Transylvania but grew up in Germany. During the Second World War, he was a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee which helped Jews escape to Hungary in the initial years of the war. After Hungary’s German occupation, the organization’s main goal became to save Jewish lives. Brand emigrated to Israel and lived in Tel Aviv at the time of the trial. Hansi Brand, Joel Brand’s wife, born in Budapest in 1912. She was also a member of the Relief and Rescue Committee. Moshe (Móse) Rosenberg was born in Hungary and served as the Chairman of the Jewish National Fund and also the member of the Relief and Rescue Committee. He left Hungary on the Kasztner train and consequently moved to Israel. Arye Zvi Breszlauer, lawyer, who was born in Vyšní Ridniczi, Eastern Slovakia, an area that had belonged to Hungary until 1918. During the war, he participated in the rescue operations of the Swiss Consulate in Budapest. Aviva Fleischmann, who was a hairdresser in Budapest during the war. Leslie Gordon, who was deported from Budapest to Kamianets-Podilskyi in 1941 and was living in Canada at the time of the trial.

6 See for example: William Korey, “Down History’s Memory Hole: Soviet Treatment of the Holocaust,” in Present Tense 10, no. 2 (1983): 53.

7 See for example: Randolph L. Braham, “Assault on Historical Memory: Hungarian Nationalists and the Holocaust,” in Hungary and the Holocaust: Confrontation with the Past. Symposium Proceedings, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, 2001, esp. 51; Shari J. Cohen, Politics without a Past: The Absence of History in Post-communist Nationalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), esp. 85–118 (on Czechoslovakia); Michael Steinlauf, Bondage to the Dead: Poland and the Memory of the Holocaust (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997).

8 Zvi Gitelman, “Politics and Historiography of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union,” in Bitter Legacy. Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, ed. idem (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1997), 14–42.

9 A detailed analysis of the period’s memory politics can be found in Regina Fritz, Nach Krieg und Judenmord. Ungarns Geschichtspolitik seit 1944 (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2012), 229–78. Dániel Véri has examined, in various publications and exhibitions, the memory of the Holocaust in Hungarian art during the communist period. See for example his A halottak élén: Major János világa (Budapest: MKE, 2013). Some of the contributions in Vera Surányi, ed., Minarik, Sonnenschein és a többiek: zsidó sorsok magyar filmen (Budapest: MZSKE–Szombat, 2001) show the presentation of the Holocaust in Hungarian movies between 1945 and 1989. Teri Szűcs has focused on the representation of the Holocaust in literature, see especially her book A felejtés története – A Holokauszt tanúsága irodalmi művekben (Budapest: Kalligram, 2011).

10 David Beetham, ed., Marxists in Face of Fascism: Writings by Marxists on Fascism from the Interwar Period (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983), 197–204; Léon Trotsky, The Struggle against Fascism in Germany (London: Pathfinder, 1971), 155–56.

11 George Dimitrov, Against Fascism and War (New York: International Publishers, 1986), 2.

12 “Theses on Fascism, the War Danger and the Tasks of the Communist Parties,” in The Communist International: 1919–1943. Documents, vol. 3, ed. Jane Degras (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), esp. 296.

13 Nina Tumarkin, “The Great Patriotic War as myth and memory,” European Review 11, no. 4 (2003): 596.

14 Nati Cantorovich, “Soviet Reactions to the Eichmann Trial: Preliminary Investigations 1960–1965,” Yad Vashem Studies 35, no. 2 (2007): 106.

15 François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), esp. 396–437; Mark R. Thompson, “Reluctant revolutionaries: Anti-Fascism and the East German opposition” German Politics 8, no. 1 (1999): 43; James Mark, “Antifascism, the 1956 Revolution and the Politics of the Communist Autobiographies in Hungary 1944–2000,” Europe–Asia Studies 58, no. 8 (2006): 1209–40.

16 Avigdor Dagan, Moscow and Jerusalem. Twenty years of relations between Israel and the Soviet Union (London–New York–Toronto: Abelard-Schuman, 1970), 138–39.

17 Yosef Govrin, Israeli–Soviet Relations 1953–1967. From Confrontation to Disruption (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 45.

18 Ibid., 80.

19 John Connelly, “Why the Poles Collaborated so Little: And Why That is No Reason for Nationalist Hubris,” in Slavic Review 64, no. 4 (2005): 772.

20 István Deák, “A Fatal Compromise? The Debate Over Collaboration and Resistance in Hungary,” East European Politics and Society 9, no. 2 (1995): 209–33.

21 Katharina von Ankum, “Victims, Memory, History: Anti-Fascism and the Question of National Identity in East German Narratives after 1990,” in History and Memory 7, no. 2 (1995): 42.

22 Jan Herman Brinks, “Political Anti-Fascism in the German Democratic Republic,” Journal of Contemporary History 32, no. 2 (1997): 210. On attempts of the East German Stasi to stage anti-Semitic incidents in West Germany see Michael Wolffsohn, Die Deutschland-Akte: Juden und Deutsche in Ost und West: Tatsachen und Legende (Munich: Ferenczy bei Bruckmann, 1995).

23 Brinks, “Political Anti-Fascism,” 212–16. On the politics of the past in the DDR and Nazi war crimes see for example Henry Leide, NS-Verbrecher und Staatssicherheit: Die geheime Vergangenheitspolitik der DDR (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2006).

24 Ankum, “Victims, Memory, History,” 42.

25 Barbara Szacka, “Polish Remembrance of WWII,” International Journal of Sociology 36, no. 4 (2006–07): 12.

26 Norman Davies, Heart of Europe. A Short History of Poland (London: Clarendon Press, 1984), 202; Gerhard Wagner, “Nationalism and Cultural Memory in Poland: the European Union Turns East” in International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 17, no. 2 (2003): 205.

27 Joanna Wawrzyniak, “On the Making of Second World War Myths. War Veterans, Victims and the Communist State in Poland, 1945–1969,” in Die Weltkriege als symbolische Bezugspunkte: Polen, die Tschechoslowakei und Deutschland nach dem Ersten und Zweiten Weltkrieg, ed. Natali Stegmann (Prague: Masarykův ústav a Archiv AV ČR, 2009), 204–05.

28 Letter from the Israeli Foreign Ministry to the Israeli Legations in Budapest, Warsaw and Bucharest, February 12, 1960. Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, Folder no. 93.10/1–22, Israel State Archives.

29 Cantorovich, “Soviet Reactions to the Eichmann Trial,” 111–15.

30 Between 1945 and 1961, about two and a half million people fled the German Democratic Republic for the German Federal Republic, reducing the population of the former by fifteen percent. Frederick Taylor, The Berlin Wall. A World Divided, 1961–1989 (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), XVIII.

31 Uri Bialer, Between East and West: Israel’s Foreign Policy Orientation 1948–1956 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 2.

32 Benjamin Pinkus, The Soviet Government and the Jews 1948–1967. A Documented Study (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 239.

33 Ibid.

34 Proposal of the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party to the Politburo in relation to the Eichmann case, by Imre Hollai and János Péter, June 24, 1960. Papers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, fond no. 288.32, document no. 1960/11, Hungarian National Archives.

35 In March 1939, Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia and established a German Protectorate over Bohemia and Moravia. In the summer of the same year, Eichmann became responsible for promoting the expulsion of Czech Jews from the newly annexed Protectorate. Based on the pattern of the Viennese Central Office for Jewish Emigration (Zentralstelle für jüdische Auswanderung), Eichmann created an office in Prague. Eichmann stayed in Prague until October, 1939 before being called back to Berlin. After becoming director of the RSHA section IV B 4 in March 1941, Eichmann played an important role in the deportation of over one million Jews to killing sites mostly in occupied Poland. Eichmann arrived to Budapest years later, in March 1944. By that time, Jewish emigration had been stopped and the decision about the physical extermination of Jews, the so-called “Final Solution”, had long been made. By then, Eichmann had considerable experience organizing the transportation of Jews to extermination camps. Nevertheless, Sondereinsatzkommando Eichmann’s coordination in the deportation of almost half a million Jews to Auschwitz in an extremely short time (less than two months) was unprecedented.

36 In June 1960, Argentina requested a meeting of the UN Security Council, claiming that the Israelis had violated the sovereign rights of the republic when they had abducted Eichmann in Buenos Aires. After months of negotiations and the involvement of the Security Council, Israel and Argentina eventually agreed to end their dispute with a joint statement.

37 Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Antonín Novotný, August 12, 1960. Published in Marie Chrová, “Israel in the foreign and internal politics of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s and beyond” in Jewish Studies at the CEU, vol. 4, ed. András Kovács and Michael Miller (2004–2005) (Budapest: CEU, 2005), 264.

38 Though the Hungarians did acknowledge it with regards to people who had become Israeli citizens by the time of the trial.

39 Chrová, “Israel in the foreign and internal politics,” 263.

40 Jenő Lévai, ed., Eichmann in Hungary: Documents (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1961); idem, ed., Eichmann en Hongrie: Documents (Budapest: Kossuth, 1961); idem, ed., Eichmann in Ungarn: Dokumente (Budapest: Univ.druck, 1961). These books were printed in Budapest but were not officially published by any publishing house in Hungary. Therefore, it is highly probable that they were not available domestically.

41 “Decision of the Politburo, 28 June 1960,” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 221.

42 András Kovács, “Hungarian Jewish Politics from the End of the Second World War until the Collapse of Communism,” in Jews and the State: Dangerous Alliances and the Perils of Privilege, ed. Ezra Mendelsohn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 133.

43 George Garai’s interview with A. Yaari, Jewish Agency emissary to the Hashomer Hatzair in Hungary between 1946–1948. Quoted in George Garai, The Policy towards the Jews, Zionism, and Israel of the Hungarian Communist Party, 1945–1953 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, London School of Economics, 1979), 128.

44 “Minutes of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Worker’s Party 28 June 1960,” in vol. 4 of Jewish Studies at the CEU, ed. András Kovács and Michael Miller (Budapest: CEU, 2005), 217–18.

45 Anna Porter, Kasztner’s Train (Vancouver–Toronto: Douglas McIntyre, 2007), esp. 9–50.

46 “Minutes of the Politburo” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 218.

47 The first Anti-Jewish Law of 1938 ruled that Jews could occupy only up to twenty percent of positions in the free intellectual professions. The second Anti-Jewish Law, which was enacted a year later, capped Jewish presence in intellectual occupations at six percent and forbade their employment in legal and public administrative apparatuses and in secondary school education. Jews could not be employed by theatres or in the press in positions where it was feared they might influence the organs’ intellectual focus. The law limited the number of Jews employed at companies and reinstated the Numerus Clausus in education. Jews were completely excluded from trades that were subject to state authorization. The acquisition of agricultural property by Jews was made significantly more difficult. The third Anti-Jewish Law of 1941, which appropriated the racial definition of Jews used by the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, forbade mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews and also criminalized sexual relationships between them. Other anti-Jewish Laws enacted in the following years discriminated against the Jewish religious community, completely forbade the acquisition of agricultural property by Jews, forced Jewish men into labor service and restricted Jewish rights to free movement.

48 There were a few semi-official attempts by the Kállay government to contact the British and the Americans as early as 1942, but as of the spring of 1943 (largely triggered by the catastrophic defeat of the Second Hungarian Army in the Voronezh area in January of that year), more serious efforts were made to contact the Allies to arrange an armistice. With regards to the Kádár regime’s attitude to the Kállay government, it must be pointed out that this position was later revised by the Department of Contemporary History (MTA Történettudományi Intézet Legújabbkori Osztály) under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences. Under the leadership of György Ránki, the department reevaluated the policies of the Kállay government (in office between March, 1942 and March, 1944), with special emphasis on attempts to abandon the war and break the alliance with Nazi Germany. Ránki, together with other historians such as Iván T. Berend and later Miklós Szabó, attempted to rehabilitate Kállay’s policies and show that the attempts to get out of the war were genuine. For more details see: See: Miklós Szabó, “A Ludovikától a Magvetőig,” Beszélő 3, no. 10 (1998). Accessed October 8, 2015, http://beszelo.c3.hu/98/10/13szab.htm.

49 Baruch Hazan, Soviet Impregnational Propaganda (Michigan: Ardis, 1982), 11–12. François Furet, The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 180–81.

50 Based on the Radio Free Europe Press Survey collections available at the Open Society Archives, Records of Radio Free Europe, Hungarian Unit, fond no. 300-40-1, box no. 1606.

51 On Jenő Lévai’s role and activities during the Eichmann trial see János Dési, “Lévai Jenő Jeruzsálemben,” Múlt és Jövő 24, no. 1 (2015): 76–86. I would like to thank Ferenc Laczó for providing me with the manuscript before its publication.

52 “Az Eichmann per ítéletének nemcsak Eichmannt kell sújtania, hanem bele kell világítania a náci barbarizmus mechanizmusába is,” Új Élet, August 15, 1960.

53 István Merly, “Eichmann volt cinkosai a nyugatnémet államapparátusban,” Esti Hírlap, April 11, 1961.

54 For example, Time Magazine mentioned it in an editorial entitled “The Case of Otto John” as early as August 23, 1954. Accessed October 8, 2015, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,823490,00.html.

55 Govrin, Israeli–Soviet Relations, 77.

56 William Korey, “In history’s ‘memory hole’: the Soviet treatment of the Holocaust” in Contemporary Views of the Holocaust, ed. Randolph L. Braham (Boston–The Hague–Dordrecht–Lancaster: Kluwer Nijhoff Publishing, 1983), 152.

57 “B’nai B’rith Report on Media Coverage of the Eichmann Case in Communist Countries, June 1961,” in Jewish Studies, ed. Kovács and Miller, 242–43.

58 Moshe Hess, Deputy to the Official in Charge of the Information Section, Israel Mission in Cologne to Leo Savir, Deputy Head of the Mission, 20 February, 1960. Paper of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Israeli Missions Abroad, document no. RG 93.43/MFA/584/5, Israel State Archives.

59 Angelika Timm, “Ideology and Realpolitik: East German Attitudes towards Zionism and Israel,” Journal of Israeli History 25, no. 1 (2006): 206.

60 RFE Special Report, Tel Aviv, March 29, 1961. Fond 300-40-1, box. 1606, Open Society Archives. Also: John P. Teschke, Hitler’s Legacy. West Germany Confronts the Aftermath of the Third Reich (New York: Peter Lang, 1999), 197.

61 “Eichmann – Communist reporting on execution.” Records of Radio Free Europe, Czechoslovak Unit: Fond 300-30-3, microfilm no. 63, Open Society Archives.

62 Adrienne Molnár, ed., A “hatvanas évek” emlékezete (Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 2004), 147.

63 It must be noted that Deborah E. Lipstadt claims that Ben-Gurion asked the prosecutor during the Eichmann trial not to use the word “Germany” but only “Nazi Germany” when referring to the country during World War II to emphasize the discontinuity between the Third Reich and the FRG. See: Deborah E. Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial (New York: Schocken, 2011), 25–26. It must be at least considered plausible that in view of Ben-Gurion’s support for the “new Germany” and the reparations paid by the FRG to the Jewish State for material damages during the Holocaust at that time, Israel did not want to jeopardize its good relations with West Germany by highlighting certain sensitive continuities. Therefore, though exaggerated, communist propaganda claims were not completely unfounded regarding this issue.

64 “Az Eichmann-ügy a leláncolt kacsa görbe tükrében,” Magyar Nemzet, April 15, 1961.

65 Tibor Pethő, “Ami a jeruzsálemi perből kimaradt,” in Magyar Nemzet, 23 July, 1961.

66 Ferenc Chorin was a wealthy Jewish businessman of the Horthy period, the director of Salgótarjáni Kőszénbánya Rt., a coal mine and its adjoining factory. Through his various posts in professional and political organizations, he also belonged to the closest political circles of Regent Miklós Horthy. Chorin was forced to resign from many of his various posts as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation in 1941. After Hungary’s occupation, he was among the first to be arrested by the SS. Nevertheless, he managed to negotiate a deal which resulted in the SS taking ownership (officially for 25 years) of the largest industrial empire in Hungary in exchange for the Chorin family’s departure to Portugal and Switzerland.

67 János Komlós, “Ami az Eichmann-ügy mögött van,” Magyar Nemzet, April 6, 1961.

68 See Ferenc Laczó’s “From ‘European Fascism’ to ‘the Fate of the Jews.’ Early Hungarian Jewish Monographs on the Holocaust” and also his “The Foundational Dilemmas of Jenő Lévai. On the Birth of Hungarian Holocaust Historiography in the 1940s,” Holocaust Studies 21, no. 1 (2015). I would like to thank Ferenc Laczó for providing me with his manuscripts. Péter Dávidházi and Tamás Kisantal explored similar topics, analyzing Hungarian literary texts about the Holocaust from the early postwar years in their presentations during the conference “Trauma-Holocaust-Literature” (Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum, Budapest, November 2014).

69 “A budapesti kollégák,” Népszava, June 4, 1960 refers Jenő Lévai’s Fekete könyv a magyar zsidóság szenvedéséről (Budapest: Officina, 1946) and his Szürke könyv a magyar zsidók megmentéséről (Budapest: Officina, 1946). “Dokumentumok Eichmann magyarországi rémtetteiről,” Magyar Nemzet, June 5, 1960 references Ernő Munkácsi, though without providing further details.

70 “A halál minisztere. Tömegirtás és üzlet,” Esti Hírlap, December 6, 1960.

71 “Horthy és Eichmann,” Népszava, June 5, 1960.

72 “Adolf Eichmann elemében,” Népszabadság, June 3, 1960.

73 “Nyugat-Németországban letartóztatták Haupsturmführer [sic] Hunsche-t, Eichmann magyarországi helyettesét,” Új Élet, December 1, 1960.

74 “A halál minisztere.”

75 László Karsai, “The People’s Courts and Revolutionary Justice in Hungary, 1945–1946,” in The Politics of Retribution in Europe: World War II and its Aftermath, ed. István Deák, Jan T. Gross, and Tony Judt (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 233–51. Viktor Karády, Túlélők és újrakezdők (Budapest: Múlt és Jövő, 2002), 15; Petru Weber, “A háborús bűnök megtorlása a második világháború utáni Romániában és Magyarországon,” Korall 8, no. 28–29 (2007): 134–45, esp. 141.

76 As early as 1948, eminent Hungarian political thinker István Bibó warned in an essay about the problems concerning the way in which the persecution of Jews in Hungary was addressed during the court procedures. According to Bibó, the conviction of criminals masked the fact that during World War II Hungarian society as a whole had abandoned the Jews before it had itself become the victim of Fascism. This, according to Bibó, was nevertheless never addressed and the victimhood of Jews was incorporated into the general group of the victims of Fascism. See: István Bibó, Zsidókérdés Magyarországon 1944 után (Budapest: Neuwald, 1948).

77 See for example: Gusztáv Heckenast et al., A magyar nép története: rövid áttekintés (Budapest: Művelt Nép, 1951).

78 Heino Nyyssönen, The Presence of the Past in Politics. 1956’ after 1956 in Hungary (Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä Printing House, 1999), 92–95.

79 Kalmár Melinda, Ennivaló és hozomány. A kora kádárizmus ideológiája (Budapest: Magvető, 1998), 29.

80 Minutes of the meeting of the Temporary Executive Committee, November 23, 1956. Minutes of the Meetings of the Politburo of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, M-KS 288.5/4, Hungarian National Archives.

81 Letter from Ferenc Esztergályos (Deputy Department Head, 2nd Regional Department of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to János Péter with regards to the Eichmann trial, February 9, 1961. Papers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Secret Documents, XIX-J-1-j (Izrael), box no. 13, 30/c, document no. 0081/4/1961, Hungarian National Archives.

82 Session 51, documents 972 and 1341 respectively, in The Trial of Adolf Eichmann. Record of Proceedings in the District Court of Jerusalem, vol. 3 (Jerusalem: State of Israel Ministry of Justice, 1993), 929.

83 On Hansi Brandt, see footnote 5 above.

84 Ibid., 1054.

85 “Jegyzetek a jeruzsálemi tárgyalásról,” Népszabadság, May 28, 1961.

86 Ibid.

87 “Eichmann magyarországi bűnei a jeruzsálemi bíróság előtt,” Magyar Nemzet, April 19, 1961.

88 “Tanúvallomás Eichmann budapesti gyilkosságáról,” Népszabadság, May 27, 1961.

89 “Eichmann további 29 bűntársát említi meg,” Magyar Nemzet, May 27, 1961. This episode was brought up during the proceedings to prove Eichmann’s direct responsibility in the commission of murder.

90 Akiva Orr, Israel: Politics, Myths and Identity Crises (London–Boulder, CO: Pluto Press, 1994), 83.

91 “ISRAEL: On Trial,” Time Magazine, July 11, 1955. Accessed July 25, 2011, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,807322-3,00.html.

92 Neither Andreas Bliss nor Moshe Kraus, who both had relevant information with regards to the “Trucks for Blood” deal, was invited to testify, the former because it was believed he would try everything to clear Kasztner’s name, the latter for the opposite reason. See: Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), 118–19.

93 “B’nai B’rith Report,” 247.

94 Ibid.

95 Anat Plocker, Zionists to Dayan: The Anti-Zionist Campaign in Poland, 1967–1968 (PhD Thesis, Stanford University, 2009), 106.

96 Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, “Re-presenting the Shoah in Poland and Poland in the Shoah,” in Re-Presenting the Shoah for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Ronit Lentin (New York: Berghahn Books, 2004), 184.

97 Hanna Yablonka, The State of Israel vs. Adolf Eichmann (New York: Schocken, 2004), 121, 141.

98 Ibid., 120.

pdfVolume 4 Issue 3 CONTENTS

Introduction by the Special Editor


The emerging scholarly interest in the Holocaust in Hungary after 1989 was coincident with the increasingly transnational framing of Holocaust research. Since the fall of communist regimes across Central and Eastern Europe, historians of the Holocaust have not only aimed to situate the genocide of European Jews in its diverse local and national contexts, but also depicted it as a mass crime to which non-German perpetrators made substantial or even decisive contributions. The Holocaust in Hungary has clearly emerged as a case in point when it comes to the multifaceted and profound involvement of the local state and society. Accordingly, in recent years historians and social scientists have been exploring a broad variety of themes and local sources related to this last major chapter of the continent-wide genocide. Applying contemporary methods, they have come to suggest novel and intriguing approaches to contextualization. However, the Holocaust in Hungary arguably has not yet been given adequate attention in the international historiography.

These considerations prompted The Hungarian Historical Review to devote its present issue to the findings of current research initiatives which place the Holocaust in Hungary in diverse contexts. András Szécsényi’s “Development and Bifurcation of an Institution. The Voluntary Labor Service and the Compulsory National Defense Labor Service of the Horthy Era” provides a thorough examination of the emergence and transformation of the institution of labor service in Hungary, an institution infamously responsible in part for the segregation and mass murder of Hungarian Jews during World War II prior to 1944. Szécsényi’s study places the history of this institution into broader geographical and temporal frames, showing in detail how what had been a voluntary system in the second half of the 1930s was made compulsory and how in the context of anti-Semitic radicalization between 1939 and 1941 the labor service system increasingly became two separate systems. Exploring another key form of anti-Jewish discrimination and exclusion prior to 1944, Gábor Szegedi’s “Stand by Your Man. Honor and Race Defilement in Hungary, 1941–1944” draws on the growing interest in the history of emotions and analyzes Hungary’s 1941 turn to racist sexual politics. Highlighting notable links to the Nuremberg laws while also exploring remarkable differences from them, Szegedi’s study of court cases dissects the conceptions and functions of “feminine,” “Jewish” and “national honor.”

Szécsényi’s and Szegedi’s in-depth analyses are followed by three case studies on the main phase of the Holocaust in Hungary in the spring and summer of 1944. Regina Fritz’s “Inside the Ghetto: Everyday Life in Hungarian Ghettos” starts from the premise that ghettoization in Hungary was not a uniform process and the exact shape ghettos took depended largely on local authorities. In addition to presenting formal differences between these comparatively short-lived ghettos, the study draws on various surviving personal documents to explore the daily lives of persecuted Jews inside them. Attila Gidó’s “The Hungarian Bureaucracy and the Administrative Costs of the Holocaust in Northern Transylvania” and Anders Blomqvist’s “Local Motives for Deporting Jews. Economic Nationalizing in Szatmárnémeti in 1944” both examine the considerations that motivated perpetrators, offering case studies on the history of 1944 from Northern Transylvania. Drawing on critical theories of modern statehood, Gidó’s research meticulously reconstructs the key tasks created by ghettoization and deportation for the Hungarian bureaucracy on a regional level and thereby shows the profound “professional” involvement of state agencies in the administration of genocide. Anders Blomqvist’s contribution grapples with the question of the motivations of perpetrators and beneficiaries in the city of Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare). The author distinguishes various types and levels of material involvement while also clearly underlining how broad segments of local society were implicated in the persecution of the city’s Jews through their support of a radical program of “economic re-Hungarianization.”

Kinga Frojimovics and Éva Kovács’s “Jews in a ‘Judenrein’ City: Hungarian Jewish Slave Laborers in Vienna (1944–1945)” provides novel insights into the experiences of Hungarian Jewish slave laborers in Vienna, a little known chapter of the Holocaust coinciding with the late stages of World War II. Drawing on an ongoing project to reconstruct, re-localize and commemorate these experiences, the article not only makes creative use of oral history sources but also clarifies key features of what its authors call “the Vienna paradox.” Kata Bohus’ “Not a Jewish Question? The Holocaust in Hungary in the Press and Propaganda of the Kádár Regime during the Trial of Adolf Eichmann” in turn broadens the chronological scope of the issue to the postwar period. Drawing on its author’s in-depth research into the attitudes and policies of communist-ruled Hungary to its Jewish population and the newly created state of Israel, Bohus dissects the ideological framing of Holocaust history and the contested nature of Holocaust remembrance under János Kádár, but also reveals a rather high degree of simultaneous responses to the Eichmann trial that at times challenged the official framing of 1944–45.

This thematic issue of The Hungarian Historical Review thus covers a wide range of topics, including the underexplored origins of the Hungarian labor service in the mid-1930s, the ideologically charged reception of the first major trial focusing on the Holocaust in the early 1960s, the history of human emotions, the “cold” history of a bureaucracy, the economic motivation and involvement of local perpetrators, and the specific experiences of Hungarian Jewish ghetto dwellers in various ghettos and slave laborers in an unfamiliar and inhospitable metropolis. Offering several new perspectives and the findings of an array of research initiatives, the issue ultimately hopes to foster further attempts at broader contextualization of key facets of the prehistory, implementation, and aftermath of the Holocaust in Hungary.


Ferenc Laczó

pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Mary Gluck

“The Jewish Ambassador to Budapest”: Mór Wahrmann and the Politics of “Tactfulness”

In this article I explore the cultural paradoxes associated with the articulation of Jewish identity in fin-de-siècle Hungary. By focusing on the political career of Mór Wahrmann, I trace the implicit contradictions of a liberal public sphere that officially recognized freedom of religion for Jews but implicitly banned all expression of Jewish cultural or ethnic difference. Reading Wahrmann’s career through his famous joke about the “Jewish ambassador in Budapest,” I argue that this system gave rise to a radically bifurcated public culture, which prohibited even the mention of a distinct Jewish identity in official politics or social life, but tolerated and even celebrated the performance of Jewish difference in the realms of commercial entertainment and humor. The paper is part of a larger book project entitled “The Invisible Jewish Budapest,” which attempts to recuperate the lost world of Jewish urban experience that flourished in Budapest in the years between 1867 and 1914.

Keywords: Jewish identity, fin-de-siècle Hungary, tolerance, anti-Semitism, Mór Wahrmann, political culture

The Funeral

On November 29, 1892, the citizens of Budapest were treated to an elaborate state funeral, staged according to the theatrical traditions that had become the custom of the fin-de-siècle Monarchy.1 The funeral was to honor Mór Wahrmann, the first Jewish Member of Parliament, who had represented for almost a quarter of a century the affluent Lipótváros, a neighborhood closely affiliated with Jewish capital and high finance. Wahrmann’s unexpected death provoked an outpouring of tributes in the national press, which showed remarkable consensus about the significance of his life and career. Wahrmann, the prominent politician, fabulously wealthy banker and businessman, and influential President of the Neolog Jewish Congregation of Budapest, was invariably depicted as the ideal type of the assimilated Hungarian Jew. More than the sum total of his individual achievements, Wahrmann’s life was seen as the symbolic expression of the aspirations of a secular and modernizing Jewish community. “The Jews of Hungary,” proclaimed the liberal daily, Pesti Hirlap, “possessed in Mór Wahrmann their virtual chief and leader.”2 Wahrmann’s exemplary status, however, transcended the Jewish community. He was also celebrated as a symbol of Hungarian liberalism and one of the mainstays of the Compromise of 1867, which had established the constitutional framework of the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy.3

Wahrmann’s funeral represented the summation and reenactment of the progressive principles that defined the liberal party. In particular, the funeral served to showcase a series of highly controversial secularization laws, recently introduced in parliament by the liberal party, which became the fulcrum of political battles for years to come. Since the crowning achievement of these measures was the so-called Law of Reception, granting Judaism equal status with other religions of the state, Wahrmann’s figure was a particularly charged symbol for the liberal establishment. There was no attempt to disguise the political agenda that formed the subtext of the funeral. As an editorial of the illustrated family magazine, Vasárnapi Ujság acknowledged the week after the ceremony:

In these days of deepening religious antagonism and strife, the general sympathy manifested at the funeral of this veteran figure of our public life has a virtually symbolic importance. Present at the funeral were members of the ruling party and officials representing every branch of our state and national institutions. Even the man of the street, usually indifferent to such things, made an attempt to express his condolences by his participation in the event. This was the emblem of our national solidarity, an encouraging sign for the future, and a rebuttal of hundreds of dark prophesies and thousands of disquieting fears.4

The political hopes proclaimed by the Vasárnapi Ujság were echoed in the hundreds of obituaries published in the wake of Wahrmann’s funeral. The defining themes of these obituaries were already sounded at a special session of parliament convened on the Monday after Wahrmann’s death. Sándor Hegedűs, speaking on behalf of the finance committee that Wahrmann headed for years, touched on Wahrmann’s remarkable abilities as an economic and financial expert.

No one had a more impressive capacity to harmonize practical life with abstract considerations […] Thus, he never supported a practical measure without theoretical and principled justification, and he never put forth a theory or principle without practical illustration.5

Károly Eötvös, a member of the opposition Independence Party and the former defense attorney of the Jews of Tiszaeszlár,6 singled out Wahrmann’s contributions to the Budapest Jewish Congregation, and Count Albert Apponyi stressed Wahrmann’s exemplary role in the transformation of the national capital into an increasingly Hungarian-speaking city.7

In these accounts, Wahrmann assumed the larger-than-life role of a man whose sheer force of character had allowed him to transcend the myriad contradictions threatening the unity of the liberal state. Successfully balancing economic pragmatism with political idealism, Hungarian national interests with the imperatives of Dualism, Wahrmann became the symbol of an ideal liberalism that increasingly eluded political practitioners. His greatest and most frequently cited achievement, however, was his ability to align and harmonize his Jewish identity with his Hungarian identity. In the words of a representative who identified himself as a political opponent of Wahrmann’s, no other member of the Jewish elite possessed a comparable ability to “reconcile—we would say even fuse—a genuine love of his native land with an equal devotion to his religious denomination.”8

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the Hungarian–Jewish press that produced the most effusive narrative on the theme of reconciliation embodied in Wahrmann’s figure. He exemplified, wrote the Magyar Zsidó Szemle, “all the characteristic traits of Hungarian Jewry: enthusiasm for the Hungarian state, striving for economic modernization and prosperity, a fervent liberalism and clear-sighted religious consciousness.”9 Wahrmann’s death, proclaimed the Jewish liberal weekly, Egyenlőség affected all segments of Hungarian society: “Charitable institutions mourn the loss of their benefactor; the representatives of political life, their hard-working colleague; business and industrial interests, their leader; the creators of scholarship and art, their patron; Jewish organizational life, its column of fire.”10

Challenges to the Liberal Narrative

The image of Wahrmann created by these eulogies bore only slight resemblance to the actual politician who had participated in Hungarian political life since 1868. In fact, the relationship between assimilated Jewry and the Hungarian liberal state was far more problematic than these narratives of inclusion and reconciliation suggested. Equally idealized was the narrative of liberalism presented in these commemorations. Not surprisingly, challenges to the public celebration and Wahrmann’s role within it emerged almost immediately after the funeral. Predictably, the most common objection was the alleged inappropriateness of according a mere Jewish politician the honor of a state funeral, usually reserved for prominent national figures. The Catholic conservative Magyar Állam voiced these concerns in their most explicit form. Wahrmann, suggested its editorial, was hardly equal to such political luminaries as the former Prime Minister, Gyula Andrássy, or the prominent railway developer, Gábor Baross, who had been given similar funerals in 1890 and 1892 respectively. What had been enacted in this ceremony, suggested the writer, was a defense of Jewish interests, not of Hungarian values. “At such times, the true face of the famous Hungarian liberalism is revealed: it is nothing more than Jewish liberalism!”11

Figure 3. Photograph of the young Wahrmann
Source: Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum [Hungarian National Museum] Történeti Fényképtár [Historical Photo Gallery]

The attempt to incorporate Wahrmann into the Hungarian national pantheon typically found more muted and indirect forms of opposition. One of the most bizarre was reported in the Viennese liberal paper, the Neue Freie Presse, which never missed an opportunity to embarrass the Hungarian political establishment. The episode, described in a postscript to an otherwise respectful obituary for Wahrmann, had to do with a conflict about the size of the black flag raised at the time of Wahrmann’s death above the Hungarian Lower House. The flag in question, it turns out, was not identical with the large one ordered on the occasion of the death of Archduke Rudolf in 1889 and also used to honor Dániel Irányi, a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, who had died only weeks before Wahrmann. The older, smaller flag hoisted for Wahrmann presumably denoted a lesser degree of respect than the one accorded to Irányi. When Dezső Bánffy, the President of the House, found out about the substitution, “he called to task the official responsible, explaining that he would not tolerate even the hint of anti-Semitism, and he ordered that the large flag be raised.”12

Behind the triviality of these episodes were fundamental and unresolved questions about the relationship of Jews to the nation state, which were hardly a concern unique to conservative and anti-Semitic opponents. These were issues deeply embedded within the fabric of Hungarian society and characteristic of the entire period of liberal hegemony since 1867. What political role should Jews assume within the liberal state? Under what conditions could Jews appear as Jews in the public sphere? Theoretically, these questions had been rendered irrelevant by emancipation, which had granted Jews full legal and political equality. With the rights of citizenship, Jews had presumably gained equal access to a disinterested and transparent public realm, where they could articulate their interests in the same way and under the same conditions as other citizens. In the context of liberal ideology, the discussion of Jewish collective identity or political strategies made no sense, since Jews were by definition citizens indistinguishable from others in the state. In fact, however, the ideal of a neutral public sphere was a fiction and Jews never became transparent, unmarked selves within the modern Hungarian state. The stigmatized status of Jews remained an unspoken and inadmissible fact of liberal society, creating unceasing tension between official political ideology and everyday social practice. The solution to the conflict was the repression of all public expressions of Jewish difference, which became an implicit clause of the so-called assimilation contract between Jews and the Hungarian nation.13

In theory, all representations of Jewish identity were banished from the public realm. In practice, however, Jews did not disappear from public view, but became hyper-visible. Jewish difference was performed in the ubiquitous Jewish joke, which became the lingua franca of Budapest urban culture; it was represented in venues of commercial entertainment, where parodies of Jewish life became an unavoidable staple; it was reflected in popular literature and the mass media, where the interaction between Jews and non-Jews was a constant theme. Representations of Jews were everywhere in the culture and it was impossible to navigate public life without encountering them. Significantly, however, there was nothing haphazard or improvised about these representations. They were governed by protocols that functioned as internalized reflexes, making some kinds of public statements about Jews acceptable and others not.

The Jewish Ambassador Anecdote

Perhaps no one was a more adroit practitioner of these unwritten rules than Wahrmann himself, who, through much of his life, managed to be the consummate political insider, as well as the ultimate cultural outsider. His true skills were those of the performer, who could function in different social settings and play in different cultural registers at the same time. It is not surprising that during his life Wahrmann was far better known for his wit and humor than for his elevated public sentiments. Borsszem Jankó, the major humor magazine of the age, paid him the ultimate professional compliment by writing his obituary in Wahrmann’s own distinctive voice.

I have to admit, that the speech pronounced by Miksa Falk at my graveside was brilliant. But I can’t help feeling that I would much have preferred my own speech at his gravesite.14

A connoisseur of jokes, Wahrmann frequently used the double-edged weapon of humor to deflate official ideologies and to give expression to the actual conditions of Jews in a fractured political culture. He was, in fact, the author of arguably the most famous witticism on the subject of Jews in public life, which came to be known as the “Jewish ambassador” joke. It provides an appropriate point of entry into my analysis of this tangled subject.

The joke, which circulated in Budapest as late as the 1890s, assumed the classic question and answer format, with Cohen representing the Jewish protagonist.

Question: “Why does Cohen support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine?”

Answer: “So he can become Jewish ambassador in Budapest.”15

In its final version, the joke was clearly a witty reference to Hungarian Jewry’s well-known patriotism and excessive devotion to the urban culture of Budapest. The historical context of the Jewish ambassador joke, however, suggests a more complex, explicitly political provenance. Despite appearances, the joke was not about the conflict between Zionism and assimilation, which only became a concern of the Hungarian–Jewish press in the course of the 1890s. The origins of the joke reached back to the late 1870s, when a new brand of political anti-Semitism was introduced to Hungarian parliament by ideologues like Győző Istóczy. Istóczy and his followers single-handedly radicalized the Jewish question by demanding the revocation of the emancipation decree of 1867 and the physical expulsion of the Jews from Hungary. The actual reference to a Jewish state in Palestine came from Istóczy, who suggested that the solution of the Jewish question would be the forced emigration of Jews to Palestine.

Wahrmann formulated the most memorable rebuttal to this proposal. Several versions of the response were passed from mouth to mouth at the fin-de-siècle,16 but the most reliable was probably the following. Wahrmann was accustomed to visiting the home of Cardinal Lajos Haynald, a prominent Catholic cleric who was a good friend of his and whose afternoon teas were attended by the political luminaries of the age. At one of these gatherings, the conversation turned to Istóczy’s recent parliamentary speech about deporting the Jews to Palestine. Haynald jokingly turned to Wahrmann with the remark:

Haynald: “If they establish a Jewish state in Palestine, all Jews will be expected to go there, including you Moric, no matter how great a patriot you are.”

Wahrmann replied: “I have no intention of going. I cannot live anywhere but here.”

Haynald: “And if you have to?”

Wahrmann: “If I have to, I will go, but I would hope to have enough influence to have myself immediately appointed Jewish ambassador to Budapest.”17

Figure 4. Wahrmann portrayed as Jewish ambassador
Source: Borsszem Jankó, June 23, 1878

The predicament at the heart of the joke was the so-called Jewish question, or the irreducible otherness of Jews within the body politic.18 In Istóczy’s radical definition of the Jewish question, Jews themselves were presumed to be alien and fundamentally threatening to the political community. In the friendly environment of Haynald’s salon, no essentialist assumption was made about individual Jews like Wahrmann, who was a welcome guest. But on the collective level, even liberal Hungarians tended to define Jews in terms of difference and incompatibility with national values.

The significance of Wahrmann’s response was that it circumvented the specific problem of anti-Semitism as posed by Istóczy’s challenge. It addressed the broader issue of the Jewish question itself, which had clearly invaded not only political life, but also semi-private spaces of sociability like Haynald’s salon. Wahrmann’s bargain to return to Budapest in the guise of Jewish ambassador from Palestine was more than a clever ploy to reaffirm his Hungarian identity; it was also a proposal to renegotiate the terms of his identity as a Hungarian Jew. It involved a strategic concession on two crucial issues that had always been central to Jewish liberal ideology. By hypothetically accepting the existence of a Jewish state, he implicitly recognized what advocates of the Jewish question had always claimed, that Judaism was not just a religion, but also a collective ethnic and political identity. By agreeing to a symbolic emigration to Palestine, he made an even bigger concession, abdicating his symbolic status as a citizen in the state. In a sense, he was withdrawing from the contested terrain of political life, where Jews continued to be considered strangers in fact, if not in law. In return, however, he gained the right to return to Budapest in the guise of the stranger with the legal credentials to settle there. The bargain was not as disadvantageous as it appears. It is true that the Jewish ambassador lost his unequivocal status as citizen, but he acquired the more tenuous, but also more creative, role of the insider/outsider, with the freedom to express his identity and interpret reality within the alternative public sphere of popular culture, commercial entertainment, and, especially, humor.

The Jewish ambassador joke was, in a sense, the unacknowledged master metaphor for the much-acclaimed Hungarian–Jewish symbiosis of the fin-de-siècle. It functioned on different symbolic and analytic levels at the same time. On the most obvious level, it provided a brilliantly subversive reformulation of the liberal ideal of emancipation, which continued to define official Jewish narratives of assimilation throughout the fin-de-siècle. It offered a sly parody of the idealized self-representation of Jewish officialdom, which refused to acknowledge the ambiguities of liberal politics, mistaking political rhetoric for reality. At a different level, however, it was also a daring thought-experiment, which used the utopian conventions of humor to reimagine the relationship between Jews and politics under the changed conditions of late-nineteenth-century nationalism. It supplied an explicitly cultural, as opposed to a social, definition of Jewish identity in an attempt to bypass the deadly and irresolvable conflicts of the Jewish question. At the most general level, however, the Jewish ambassador joke was what Kenneth Burke has called a “representative anecdote,” which provided an abstract model of actual social relations between Jews and non-Jews. According to Burke, the representative anecdote was a condensation or distillation of social realities that made no pretense at formal realism. It was, he suggested, “summational in character… wherein human relations grandly converge.”19

Viewed as a representative anecdote, the Jewish ambassador joke offered a blueprint of an empirical world that was far closer to the hypothetical logic of the joke than to the ideological formulae of politics. It suggested that in the world of social relations and collective experience, Jews did in fact function as ambassadors from a non-existent nation, and their status was defined by informal rules and unspoken conventions. Within this world, Jews alternately played the roles of insiders and outsiders, natives and foreigners, depending on the context in which they found themselves. Their dual status may not have been formally acknowledged in politics or the legal system, but it was imprinted within the subliminal cultural codes of society. This explains why the representation of Jewish themes became such a highly charged matter, in constant need of supervision and discipline. In official politics, in respectable society, in high culture; the formal principle of Jewish equality prevailed and the presentation of Jewish difference, or even references to individuals as Jews, was considered bad form and strictly banned. In popular culture, however, especially in commercial entertainment and the realm of humor, Jewish difference was not only permitted, but encouraged and given unchecked expression.

Representation of Jews in Literature, Society and Politics

One of the striking features of this bifurcated cultural system was its unofficial, informal character. There were no publicly acknowledged codes or formulae that defined the appropriate representation of Jews in public life. These matters were a part of an elaborate set of internalized cultural reflexes, which were surrounded by a peculiarly illicit, underground quality. The subject could not be openly broached and analyzed without exposing the ideological inconsistencies and even hypocrisy of the liberal order. The very definition of cultural competence at the fin-de-siècle presumed the mastery of the codes for talking about Jews in public life.

Ignorance of these codes could have serious consequences. One revealing example was recounted in the autobiography of the working class, non-Jewish writer, Lajos Nagy, whose initial attempts to break into the literary life of the capital ran aground precisely on his lack of understanding of the unwritten rules for representing Jews in literature. According to his account, he submitted to the modernist literary journal Nyugat a short story written in the naturalist style, modeled on a Polish-Jewish immigrant family living in Király Street. The point of the story, which was based on the family of his best friend, Gábor Kaufman, was to explore the complicated linguistic practices and cultural identities of a typical, lower-middle class Jewish family in Budapest. To the astonishment and indignation of the author, his short story was published in a severely truncated form. Ernő Osvát, the powerful Jewish editor of Nyugat, had unilaterally expunged nearly all references to the Jewish origins of the characters and to the ethnic features of their milieu. Even the original title, “The Schvarczes” (The Schvarcz family) was changed to the non-descript “Este van” (It is evening).20 As this painful introduction to contemporary literary life illustrated, the political shadow of the Jewish question could not be exorcised from even the most innocent and high-minded literary enterprises.21

The discrepancies between legitimate and illegitimate expressions of Jewish identity provided a virtual gold mine for the humor mills of Budapest. Indeed, central to Budapest Jewish humor was the paradoxical status of Jews, who were considered simultaneously equal, but also unequal in society. The problem found a wonderfully economical illustration in a caricature of Borsszem Jankó that focused on the common dilemma of children of mixed marriages, but implied a much broader kind of experience as well.

“Imagine papa,” asks the little girl of her father, “mama says that you are Jewish!” “I am darling,” responds the father, “and it is not something to be ashamed of. But I don’t want to hear you ever talking about it again!”22

The Jewish humorist, Adolf Ágai, provided an astute parody of the same phenomenon in one of his urban essays published in Travels from Pest to Budapest 1843–1907. The essay, which focused on commercial entertainment in Budapest, sardonically commented on Jewish middle class attitudes to parodic representations of Jewish themes in Orpheums and music halls.

Strange, he mused. If our Israelite fellow citizens are made fun of in Hungarian—be it on stage, in literature, or in art—he is full of indignation. But if the Jew is represented through the characteristic dialect and disjointed gestures of Szerecsen Street or in the Polish–Jewish inflections of ‘Ingvar,’ his amusement is without bounds.23

Ágai’s mock surprise at the apparent hypocrisy of Jewish elites, who seemed unwilling to acknowledge their Jewish identity in official culture but were more than willing to laugh at it in popular venues, was only rhetorical. He was perfectly aware of the cultural codes that constrained public articulations of Jewish identity in fin-de-siècle Budapest. Ágai’s readers, no less sensitized to these codes, recognized their own self-portrait in Ágai’s imagined Orpheum audiences. Whether they were aware of it or not, they were all “Jewish ambassadors in Budapest,” who had learned the art of monitoring their performance and self-presentation in the public sphere.

The imperative for Jewish self-censorship in all areas of public life could lead to paradoxical results, especially in the realm of politics. In 1884, when the Lower House publicly condemned anti-Semitism in the wake of the election of sixteen anti-Semitic members to parliament, the Jewish deputies conspicuously recused themselves from participating in the debate. The periodical Magyar Zsidó Szemle praised their action in the following words:

The Jewish deputies in the House displayed enough tact to refrain from participating in the pre-advertised debate, and enough self-esteem to refuse to enter into dialogue with the anti-Semitic gentlemen.24

The same strategy of non-involvement was repeated in 1895, during the final phase of the controversial Law of Reception debate. The ten Jewish deputies in the Lower House, including Wahrmann himself, agreed not to address the question as a separate group, but to have their voices represented by the liberal Hungarian leadership as a whole. Their reasoning was that the Reception of Judaism was not a parochial Jewish issue, but a universal liberal principle, and therefore, best represented by Hungarian liberal politicians. The actual reason, however, was the old fear of being perceived as acting collectively in Jewish interests.

The deputies of the Jewish faith in both the Lower and Upper Houses abstained from addressing the matter for reasons that, in my opinion, can be understood. They were concerned that if they addressed the question as Jews, their words might be construed by the nation as the collective voice of Hungarian Jewry. For this task, however, they did not feel empowered by their charge.25

The Code of “Tactfulness”

As these random episodes illustrate, the very act of representing Jewish identity in the public arena (be it in literature, in society or in politics), was surrounded by anxiety and uncertainty. The special skill needed to navigate the treacherous waters of this realm was commonly referred to as “tact” (tapintat). Wahrmann, for instance, was praised for his “discretion and tact” in dealing with the conflicts of party politics.26 The Jewish deputies who chose to remain passive during the parliamentary initiative that condemned anti-Semitism in 1884 were commended for showing “tact” in refusing to engage with their opponents. Perhaps most puzzling of all was the frequent use of the word in the context of the Tiszaeszlár blood libel affair in 1882–1883. Jews who manifested solidarity with the accused Jews were reproached for showing “tactlessness” and thus provoking public opinion. When in the summer of 1882 the Jews of the Tokaj region purchased guns to defend their property against anti-Semitic vandalism, they were sharply rebuked for their “tactlessness.”

Their first tactless act was their open decision to purchase weapons from Zákó’s gunsmith […] and this was far from the only tactless act they committed… Certain Jewish elements alienate the intelligentsia far more than the so-called common people, because the sense of justice among the intelligentsia is stronger and their displeasure against lawless, provocative and aggressive action greater and more natural.27

The very extremity of the language of the article is instructive, for it reflects the unacceptability of even the most justifiable collective action on the part of the threatened Jewish population. The fact that it was the intelligentsia, rather than the common man, who was most provoked by such acts was added as an afterthought, but suggests an important motif in the debate. Clearly, Jewish collective action in public life was perceived as a theoretical, not just a practical, infraction that seemed to be more apparent to intellectuals than to the man of the street. But why this should be the case and why such actions were invariably described as “tactless” needs further elaboration.

The word was obviously derived from the realm of etiquette, rather than politics. The notion of “tactless behavior” suggests not a transgression against impersonal rules used to regulate political society; but a breach of social courtesy in an intimate setting such as a salon or a closed circle of friends. In fact, the most fraught interactions between Jews and non-Jews often did take place in the semi-private spaces of professional life and urban sociability, where the identity and legitimacy of the Jewish participants were by definition ambiguous or imperfectly articulated. One of the paradoxical results of the success of Jewish integration within Hungarian society was the growth of opportunities for social tensions and misunderstandings between Jews and non-Jews.

The predicament could result in excruciating situations, poignantly depicted in an essay published in 1890 in Egyenlőség. Simply entitled “Jews in Society,” the article examined the common situation of individual Jews finding themselves in social settings where the general topic of conversation turned to the “Jewish question” or the negative character of the Jews, without the company being aware of, or concerned about, the presence in their midst of a member of the group under discussion. The explicit goal of the article was to provide its Jewish readers with practical guidelines for dealing with such awkward encounters. According to the author, the extremes of silent acquiescence or open confrontation were both to be avoided.

Let us admit quite openly that there are Jews who, on occasions when the ‘Jewish question’ is raised as a general topic of conversation, prove themselves quite capable of listening with external calm, though with inner disquiet, to even the most insulting details, as if they had nothing to do with the subject.28

Such behavior was condemned as both ethically contemptible and socially unrealistic. Yet, the alternate strategy of open affirmation of Jewish difference was also rejected as disruptive of social harmony among friends. “The tendency,” concluded the article, “to fall into the other extreme and exercise a kind of terrorism on the relaxed good cheer of the company would also be a pity. The Jew should have self-respect, but should be selective about the occasions on which he chooses to express it.”29

The suggested solution for the inherent ambiguities of Jewish presence in public life was, of course, “tact,” that elusive quality capable of resolving the intractable contradiction between equality and difference, self-effacement and self-assertion. The actual recipe for “tactful” behavior remained sketchy in the article, the aim of which was essentially didactic, pointing out behavior to avoid rather than practices to adopt. Its general concern, however, helps illustrate the everyday dimension of the problem of Jewish and non-Jewish interaction in the public realm. “Tact” was an indispensable requirement of everyday life, as well as of politics, which were inseparably associated with each other. The “tactful” Jew was not just an individual who had learned to avoid embarrassing confrontations in the public realm, but one capable of mastering distinct discursive realms for the appropriate articulation of his Jewishness.

The Janus Face of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy

One of the reasons the attribute of “tact” proved so difficult to define or identify lay in the fact that, for an action to be truly successful, it had to become virtually invisible and unnoticeable. Tactfulness was a social skill and political attribute that needed to be seamlessly incorporated into daily life, perceived and experienced as part of the inevitable order of things. Perhaps this is why the idealized portrait of Wahrmann, produced at the time of his death, appeared so unsurprising and “realistic” to the general public. He was able to embody and represent the ideal type of the assimilated Hungarian Jew because this is the type people expected to encounter in public life. On closer view, however, Wahrmann’s apparently harmonious persona hid a highly fragmented and paradoxical self, whose inner contradictions could still be read between the lines of the respectful obituaries. It is worth returning to these tributes, in order to analyze more fully the meaning of “tact” in the life of one of the consummate practitioners of the genre.

Wahrmann, as most of the obituaries directly or obliquely acknowledged, was not a typical Hungarian politician. He was, for one thing, a poor orator, whose skepticism toward great ideals deprived his speeches of all theatricality. “His arguments,” one obituary admitted, “often fizzled into mere cleverness.”30 Wahrmann avoided the political limelight, suggested another, preferring to express himself through “silent, tireless and successful work.” He stood outside the conflicts of party politics and “wore the honorable mantle of independence… with discretion and tact.”31 Wahrmann’s public persona, however, was not synonymous with the self-effacing technocrat, working anonymously behind the scenes. Almost every obituary made extended reference to Wahrmann’s humor, which apparently enjoyed universal acclaim.32 “Eventually,” elaborated one account, the jokes and witticisms associated with Wahrmann became independent of him, “and congealed into a recognizable social persona, constructed in part by his colleagues and in part by Borsszem Jankó, the pages of which featured him as a permanent caricature.”33

In the guise of his comic alter ego, W. M. Börzeviczy, Wahrmann regularly transgressed the boundaries of tactful behavior and confronted questions such as anti-Semitism and his own Jewish identity with remarkable directness and insight. Wahrmann’s relationship to Börzeviczy is a complex one, not easy to define in any direct or causal way. Though Wahrmann did not single-handedly create Börzeviczy, there is no question that he was the inspiration for the rotund, wisecracking Jewish businessman/politician, who became a regular feature and beloved social type of Borsszem Jankó. Börzeviczy’s physical characteristics, as well as his habit of punning in Hungarian and commenting on his own wit in German, were closely modeled on Wahrmann himself. It is also probable that most of the jokes published on the pages of Borsszem Jankó under the title, “The Witticisms of W. M. Börzeviczy,” were actual transcriptions of Warhmann’s famous jokes that circulated in parliament and beyond. At the same time, however, Börzeviczy as a social type unquestionably owed its broader symbolic power to the editors of Borsszem Jankó. It is they who assigned the Wahrmann caricature the satiric name of “Börzeviczy,” which was a reference to Wahrmann’s complex relationship to the Hungarian political elite and to the public realm in general. While the initials, “W. M.” unambiguously pointed to Wahrmann, “Börzeviczy” was a comic distortion of the name of the liberal politician, Albert Berzeviczy, a descendant of an illustrious Hungarian noble family. With the substitution of only on letter, the original historic name gained an entirely new connotation, since “börze” meant stock exchange in Hungarian. “Börzeviczy,” thus became not only the shadow of the liberal politician, but also a commerce-minded transformation and usurpation of his historic name, something that Jews were frequently accused of doing.

Figure 5. Wahrmann as W. M. Börzeviczy in Borszem Jankó

Börzeviczy was, on one level, the physical incarnation and the genial symbol of Jewish difference in public life. This idea found iconic representation in the image of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy in ill-fitting and comical Hungarian national costume, which was commonly featured on the pages of Borsszem Jankó. A particularly famous example depicted Wahrmann and a fellow politician, both wearing national costumes and swords, trying to pass each other in a narrow space. As his companion apologizes to Wahrmann for the nuisance of his sword, Wahrmann responded that his own sword bothered him far more than that of his colleague. The visual focus on the Hungarian national costume helped establish the conceptual links between public life, national culture and historic traditions, which Jews could not enter without appearing ridiculous and inappropriate.

Significantly, however, Börzeviczy was not merely a parody of the Jewish politician in public life. He was also a brilliant analyst and devastating critic of the conditions that defined this role. Börzeviczy’s dominant characteristic was his utter freedom from the constraints of tact. Indeed, his self-defined task was to expose and ridicule the contradictions of official political culture that found its reconciling principle in tactful behavior. Unlike Wahrmann the politician, Börzeviczy the humorist openly acknowledged his Jewish identity and wittily commentated on the paradoxes of Jewish collective existence in Hungary. In one of his most succinct formulations, he defined Hungarian Jewry as plaintiffs in a prolonged paternity suit filed against the Hungarian nation, which refused to acknowledged them as legitimate sons.34

In many respects, Börzeviczy was the mirror image of Wahrmann, making explicit and public what the empirical Wahrmann kept implicit and private. While Wahrmann aspired to make Jewish identity invisible and universal in the public realm, Börzeviczy performed a highly visible and culturally distinct version of the same identity. At times, Börzeviczy’s candor was remarkable, extending to the delicate issue of Wahrmann’s own self-erasure as a Jew. He admitted that his reluctance to engage openly with Jewish issues drew criticism from certain quarters. He added, however, that the opposite course of action would provoke recrimination from the very same quarters. He characterized his decision to withdraw from public activity in the House with the following witty pun: “Up till now, I had a standing in the House; now I have a seating.”35 His irony was particularly trenchant on the question of anti-Semitism, which never failed to provoke him, especially when it involved long-term friends like Franz Liszt, who regularly performed at his home.

That Liszt! I can’t calmly accept his dalliance with anti-Semitism, when he has been invited to so many soirees in so many Jewish salons. To a surprising degree he lacks rhythm [in Hungarian, the word for rhythm is taktus and therefore echoes the overcharged word, tact. – M. G.], and therefore offends against good tone! (Wird ihm wehtun!)36

The dichotomies encoded within the twin personae of Wahrmann/Börzeviczy were responses to a radically bifurcated political culture, whose official principles were increasingly at odds with its informal values and actual social practices. Already anticipated in the Jewish ambassador joke, the project of Jewish public participation required mental agility, discernment, and, of course, tact. It presupposed the ability to distinguish between the realms of political rhetoric and cultural discourse, between the appropriate venues for expressing Hungarian identification and Jewish difference. Wahrmann, the consummate political performer, rarely made the mistake of confusing the discursive territory of the two realms. Only once did the carefully constructed walls between Wahrmann, the politician, and Börzeviczy, the humorist, temporarily break down. The result was an astonishing and ultimately mock-heroic duel between Wahrmann, the discrete parliamentarian; and Istóczy, the flamboyant anti-Semite. The highly publicized social drama provoked by the duel was played out on the streets of Budapest in June 1882, only a decade before Wahrmann’s state funeral in 1892. The two events form appropriate bookends for the assessment of Wahrmann’s political legacy.

The Duel

The duel was precipitated by a controversial parliamentary debate about Russian-Jewish immigration to Hungary in the wake of massive anti-Jewish pogroms that had broken out in Russia in early 1882. Despite his previous resolution to keep silent, Wahrmann decided in the last minute to speak on the issue after the inflammatory speech of Istóczy, who insisted on connecting the immigration discussion with the status of Hungarian Jews. Wahrmann began his speech with the familiar Jewish parliamentary gesture of refusing to recognize the anti-Semites as debating partners.

A man, who incites to unlimited internal warfare within this house may have the right to such expressions as a representative enjoying the privileges of parliamentary immunity, but he can have no right to claim me as a participant in debate.37

Having rejected political dialogue with anti-Semitism, Wahrmann then proceeded to express his own views as to why mass immigration on the part of Russian-Jews was undesirable. Veering self-consciously away from the specifics of the Jewish question, Wahrmann suggested that the issue was not whether Russian Jews, but whether any foreign group, be they “Russian Jews or Russian nihilists, German Social Democrats or Irish Fenians, Serbians, Romanians, or Saxons,” should be allowed to settle in the country. With this shift of emphasis, Wahrmann succeeded in grounding the debate on questions of utility and national self-interest, rather than on issues of religion or national character. Only at the end did he permit himself to drop the language of pragmatism and to address the House directly through the familiar rhetoric of Hungarian patriotism.

Honorable House! I have no fear of the emergence of a Jewish Question in this country, no matter how much some individuals might agitate for this […] I trust in the wisdom of this legislative body, in the justice of this administration […] I trust in the level headedness and in the sense of fair play of the Hungarian people, which will not easily allow itself to be led astray.38

Wahrmann concluded his speech with a rhetorical flourish that seemed to point toward Istóczy. The gesture set in motion a sequence of implausible and melodramatic events that were to culminate in the much-publicized duel between the two deputies. The steps leading to the duel were exhaustively reported in the daily press and had the appearance of inevitability. The overall logic of the confrontation, however, is less apparent, especially in light of Wahrmann’s well-known cautious and skeptical temperament. It appears that Istóczy took offence at Wahrmann’s concluding gesture and immediately left the floor of the House in seeming agitation. Within minutes, two of his friends approached Wahrmann with the demand of satisfaction in the form of a duel for the recently inflicted insult on Istóczy. Reasonable bourgeois that he was, Wahrmann refused the challenge, explaining that his were oratorical gestures not intended for Istóczy personally, and that, in any case, parliamentary immunity would preclude his talk from being construed as a personal affront. After the message was relayed to Istóczy, he decided to confront Wahrmann in person. Overtaking his antagonist in the parliamentary library in the midst of conversation with a group, Istóczy accused Wahrmann of cowardice for refusing to accept the duel. Wahrmann repeated his previous claim that he had not insulted Istóczy and that he was, in any case, not obliged to offer satisfaction for words spoken in Parliament. After an exchange of unflattering epithets, physical violence suddenly erupted, as Istóczy lounged toward Wahrmann in an attempt to slap him. Bystanders intervened just in time to deflect the blow from Wahrmann’s face to the back of his neck.39

This unconventional confrontation in the parliamentary library resulted in an even more unlikely event: a dual between Wahrmann and Istóczy. The Wahrmann–Istóczy affair, as it rapidly came to be known, was played out according to a carefully constructed choreography that took the form of a social drama. It was the anthropologist Victor Turner who coined the phrase “social drama” to refer to certain kinds of collective conflicts or crisis that tend to be acted out in patterns strongly resembling, indeed, anticipating aesthetic drama and theatrical performance. The social drama, as Turner described it, has two distinguishing features that are of particular relevance to the events that erupted in Budapest in the aftermath of the immigration debate on June 8. The first is that it takes place outside the boundaries of normal, institutional social action. It has, to use Turner’s word, “‘liminal’ characteristics since each is a ‘threshold’ (limen) between more or less stable and harmonious phases of social processes.”40 The social drama, thus, represents a breach in the public norms and values of a collectivity, exposing precisely those fault lines that underlie existing social consensus. The social drama, to return to Turner, “takes up its menacing stance in the forum or agora itself, and as it were, challenges the representatives of order to grapple with it.”41 The second characteristic of the social drama is that it is “processually structured”; that is, it unfolds according to a fairly coherent sequence of events or moments that Turner considered inherent in the very nature of human agonistic behavior. Beginning as an infraction in the rules of social norms, the social drama opens up a deeper cleavage in social relations. After attempts to adjudicate the breach fail, the conflict is ritually enacted between the conflicting parties. The social drama ends, Turner claimed, either with the reintegration of the disturbed groups within the community or the recognition that an irreparable breach has occurred that can only be resolved by separating the hostile parties. 42

Applying Turner’s model to the Wahrmann–Istóczy conflict, it is clear that a symbolic breach had occurred within the dominant liberal order, which ordinarily kept such conflicts under check and outside the public arena. As was apparent to all participants, the confrontation between Wahrmann and Istóczy was not simply between two individuals, but between Jews and anti-Semites, who enacted their hostility within a public arena outside of liberal institutions. The transformation of the initial breach of parliamentary conventions into generalized social crisis was well under way by Friday afternoon of June 8, when a crowd of four or five hundred people gathered outside Parliament in hopes of finding first-hand information about the rumored conflict between Wahrmann and Istóczy. As excited groups collected throughout the city, on street corners, in coffee houses, and in stores and offices, contradictory versions of the story circulated, especially concerning the crucial issue of who had insulted whom. One popular rumor held that Wahrmann had initiated the provocation and that the House, bribed by the Jews, had supported him. Among the majority of Jews, on the other hand, it was Wahrmann who was perceived as the victim, and fears of anti-Semitic violence, ever present under the surface of liberal society, were flamed into new life.43

The affair rapidly divided the capital, and eventually the nation, into two antagonistic camps, cheering on their respective champions in a ritualized confrontation minutely reported, embroidered upon, and analyzed by the popular press. According to one report, “Every layer of society was feverishly preoccupied with the affair.”44 The process of polarization continued over the weekend, which proved unsuitable for the duel for religious reasons: Wahrmann refused to fight on Saturday and Istóczy on Sunday. Each side found dramatic public gestures through which to express its commitment to its cause. Wahrmann’s constituents in the Lipótváros planned a torchlight procession with music to show their support for their champion. As one article reported:

In this well-to-do neighborhood, every individual feels himself personally affronted […] Several members of the younger generation want to ask for personal satisfaction from Istóczy, since they strongly condemn an act that forces a half-blind man to fight a duel. [Wahrmann had very poor eyesight and wore thick glasses. – M. G.] Calmer elements, fearing possibly dangerous consequence, are scarcely able to restrain them.45

Istóczy, too, was overwhelmed by gestures of support from all over the country. On Sunday, his apartment was thronged with visitors and inundated with letters and telegrams “commending his true cause under the protection of God.” Typical of the overheated atmosphere was his associate’s formal petition to the prime minister for guards to assure his safety, for rumors were rife that Jewish army officers were planning to assassinate Istóczy if Wahrmann should be injured in the duel.46

The much-awaited and highly publicized duel was to take place on Monday morning at 6:00 a.m. on the site of the old racetrack at the edge of the city. The antagonists, their seconds, and their respective physicians, were ready at 5:50, and the formalities of the duel were scrupulously played out. Perhaps the most important participants were the representatives of the press, who were present in full force, ready to inform the nation of the antagonists’ every move. After the space had been measured out and the pistols filled, one of the seconds undertook the traditional role of attempting to reconcile the parties. Both refused any thought of reconciliation, Istóczy curtly, with the words, “Let’s get down to business,” Wahrmann, more expansively, with, “After such an insult, there is no room for reconciliation.”

At this critical junction, the figure of a mounted police officer suddenly appeared from behind the bushes. He trotted up to the duelers and declared that his mission was to “prevent the enactment of illegal deeds.”47 (Dueling was technically illegal in Hungary, through in practice it was never interfered with.) This sudden intervention by the liberal government initiated what Turner refers to as the third phase of the social drama: the application of “redressive or remedial procedures” by the collective authority of the community in order to contain the contagion and prevent the crisis from spreading. The liberal government had intervened in the final moment to stop the conflict, but, typically, the mechanisms for redress that were brought into play were only symbolic and entirely ineffectual. Instead of behind-the-scenes negotiations, influence, or pressure, which were well within their means, the liberal authorities chose to intervene through a highly theatrical gesture that could have had no impact on the events.

The police interruption only delayed the duel by a few hours. The participants and their entourages reassembled near the estate of Count Brunswick outside of Budapest to finish what they had started in the morning.

The two shots went off almost simultaneously, and to the question, did anyone get hurt, both parties answered in the negative. At this point, the seconds shook hands with the duelers. The duelers, however, remained cool and distant from each other. Ónódy, Istóczy’s second, briefly suggested reconciliation, but Wahrmann shook his head and Istóczy said: “Let everything remain as before.”48

The two parties drove separately to the nearby town of Ercsi to await the midnight train back to Budapest. Istóczy and his friends spent the intervening hours in a tavern, where they were joined by local intellectuals. They drank wine and sang anti-Semitic ditties to the accompaniment of a Gypsy band. Wahrmann and his party retired to the private home of a coreligionist, where they were greeted by an official delegation of the local Jewish community. The contrast between the patterns of social interaction characteristic of the two groups could not have been more revealing. As readers of these accounts would have been quick to grasp, the duel had ritually enacted not only collective grievances, but also different ways of life, different modes of being Hungarian. Graphically juxtaposed were the traditional habits of the Hungarian gentry on the one side, and the culture of the newly assimilated bourgeoisie on the other.

The social drama, with its collective enactment of breach, crisis, attempted redress, and final resolution, seemed over by Tuesday morning, when editorials scrambled to clarify the implications of what had taken place. In the words of one summary:

The Jewish question, in the sense that it was defined by the movement against Russian immigration, is now over. It began quietly, it rapidly generated public passion, and it ended with pistol shots. After the nerve-wracking excitement of the past few days, moods are ready to return to normal.49

The assessment that the duel had somehow put to rest the Jewish question, or in any case made it retreat from the public forum to the recesses of private opinion, proved to be a mistaken conclusion. Indeed, the final phase of the social drama did not play out according to the classic pattern suggested by Turner. It brought about neither “the reintegration of the disturbed social groups” nor “the social recognition of irreparable breach between the contending parties.”50 What happened, instead, was a radical reinterpretation and transformation of the meaning of the duel itself, accomplished by the humor magazine, Borsszem Jankó. The week after the confrontation between Wahrmann and Istóczy, it published as its frontispiece a satirical depiction of the recently concluded duel, entitled, “The End of the Comedy.” The caricature portrayed Wahrmann and Istóczy holding hands on stage, smoking pistols in hand, taking self-satisfied bows in front of a wildly enthusiastic audience, half of whom were cheering Wahrmann, the other half, Istóczy. Between the two actors on stage was the prompter’s box, conspicuously labeled “Noble Casino,” to symbolize the highly ambiguous role of the Hungarian liberal establishment in the affair.

Figure 6. The Wahrmann–Istóczy duel.
Source: Borsszem Jankó, June 18, 1882

By reframing the Wahrmann–Istóczy affair and placing it within the realm of the melodrama, Borsszem Jankó trivialized the event and made explicit what seems to have been common knowledge among its contemporary spectators; namely that the duel had been rigged and the guns had been fixed to fire awry, so that the participants would not sustain injuries. The confrontation that had held the capital spellbound for days was, after all, only a theatrical production that did not need to be taken overly seriously. The mock-heroic image of Wahrmann and Istóczy, united by the professional bonds of actors, though divided by the popular passion of their followers, repudiated the political legitimacy not only of anti-Semitism, but of all ideological interpretations of the Jewish question. The duel, which had briefly threatened to disrupt public life and transform politics into popular action, could once again be returned to its appropriate place: the non-serious realm of humor and parody. 51

The final assessment of the Wahrmann–Istóczy duel came a year after the event, from one of the wittiest novelists and parliamentary reporters of the age, Kálmán Mikszáth, who was famous for his ironic parliamentary vignettes, printed in Pesti Hirlap.

Gentlemen, let us not condemn all duels, since there are some that are, by their very nature, convivial affairs, which bring a smile to people’s faces, or even cause gales of laughter among those hearing about it. Such was the duel fought by Wahrmann and Istóczy, which needs no detailed description, since its entire text conforms perfectly to the conventions of the classic operetta.52

What had apparently taken place was not a social drama, but a farce, a comic reenactment on the streets and in the popular press, of a dangerous social conflict that had been disallowed in the official forums of political life.

The Possibilities of Jewish Politics in a Liberal State

How are we to assess the long-range implications of this political operetta? How does it fit into the larger problem of the relationship of Jews to the liberal state? Such questions cannot avoid confronting Hannah Arendt’s devastating critique of Jewish assimilation in Central Europe, most fully articulated in The Origins of Totalitarianism, but already anticipated in her Jewish essays of the 1940s. According to Arendt, secular Jews showed dangerous myopia and unwarranted indifference to politics when they failed to oppose anti-Semitism directly. Lacking political traditions or experiences of their own, she contended, Jews placed excessive faith in the liberal state that had protected them since emancipation.53 In this respect, even Heine, that most astute observer of the limitations of assimilation, manifested the kind of “worldlessness” commonly displayed by traditional Judaism. His “attitude of amused indifference,” she claimed, was inadequate, “when measured by the standards of political realities.” “When one comes down to earth,” she concluded, “one has to admit that laughter does not kill and that neither slaves nor tyrants are extinguished by mere amusement.”54

Arendt’s critique, infused by tragic historical hindsight and an abstract, macro-political perspective, is irrefutable. Yet, it is also historically inaccurate. It fails to take into sufficient account the limited political options available for Jewish political practice within the liberal state. Given the contradictory impulses of Central European liberalism, which simultaneously granted Jews the roles of legal insiders and of cultural outsiders, the possibilities for autonomous Jewish political action were severely circumscribed. Wahrmann was fully aware of these limitations and illustrated their consequences in his famous Jewish ambassador joke. As Jewish ambassador in Budapest, he provided an example of how to wield influence through indirection and how to use humor to confront, and even triumph, over ideology. This practice can hardly be called “worldless” or indifferent to political affairs. It was, on the contrary, highly pragmatic and brilliantly calibrated to the paradoxical realities and possibilities of liberal politics.


Primary Sources

Borsszem Jankó [Tom Thumb], 1879, 1881, 1882, 1884.

Budapesti Hirlap [Budapest Daily], 1892.

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“A Tisza-eszlári gyilkosság” [The Murder at Tiszaeszlár]. Függetlenség [Independence], July 1, 1882.

“A Wahrmann–Istóczy ügy” [The Wahrmann–Istóczy Affair]. Egyetértés, June 11, 1882.

“Az Istóczy–Wahrmann féle ügy” [The Istóczy–Wahrmann Affair]. Függetlenség, June 11, 1882.

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“Az országházból” [From the Annals of Parliament]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle [Hungarian Jewish Quarterly] 1, no. 9 (1884): 580.

“Börzeviczy W. M. élczei” [The Witticisms of W. M. Börzeviczy]. Borsszem Jankó, December 4, 1892. 4.

„Budától Ercsiig” [From Buda to Ercsi]. Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

Bűcher, Sándor. “Wahrmann Mór életrajza” [Biography of Mór Wahrmann]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle 10, no. 3 (1893): 9.

Haber, Samu. “Wahrmann Mórról” [About Mór Wahrmann]. Egyenlőség [Equality], December 2, 1892.

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Mikszáth, Kálmán. “A hősök sorsa. Karcolat” [The Fate of Heroes. A Sketch]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 568. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Palágyi, Lajos. “Zsidók a társaságban” [Jews in Society]. Egyenlőség, November 17, 1890. 7–8.

“Polgári házasság” [Civil Marriage]. Borsszem Jankó, April 3, 1881. 10.

Szabolcsi, Miksa. “A mi nagy veszteségünk” [Our Great Loss]. Egyenlőség, December 2, 1892.

Vajda, Béla. “A zsidóság és a prozelita-csinálás” [Jewry and the Making of Proselytes]. Magyar Zsidó Szemle 12, no. 3 (1895): 260.

“Wahrmann Mór” Egyetértés, November 27, 1892. 328.

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Feldman, Ron H. “Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The Case of Hannah Arendt.” In Hannah Arendt. The Jewish Writings, edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman, xli-lxxvi. New York: Schocken Books, 2007.

Frank, Tibor. „Magyar és Zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései” [Hungarian and Jew: the Questions of the Biography of Wahrmann]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 11–36. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Frank, Tibor ed. Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892]. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

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Nagy, Lajos. A lázadó ember, 1883–1914 [The Rebel, 1883–1914]. Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1956.

Porzó (Ágai, Adolf). Utazás Pestről – Budapestre 1843–1907: Rajzok és emlékek a magyar főváros utolsó 65 esztendejéből [Travels from Pest to Budapest 1843–1907: Sketches and Memories about the Last 65 Years of the Hungarian Capital]. Budapest: Fekete Sas Kiadó, 1998.

Tóth, Vilmos. “Wahrmann Mór temetése és a Wahrmann-mauzoleum” [The Funeral of Mór Wahrmann and the Wahrmann Mausoleum]. In Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892 [Love of Nation and Loyalty to Religion: Mór Wahrmann, 1831–1892], edited by Tibor Frank, 205–11. Budapest: Argumentum, 2006.

Turner, Victor. “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning.” In idem. The Anthropology of Performance, 33–71. New York: PAJ Publications, 1986.

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1 See Vilmos Tóth, “Wahrmann Mór temetése és a Wahrmann-mauzoleum,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség: Wahrmann Mór, 1831–1892, ed. Tibor Frank (Budapest: Argumentum, 2006), 205–11.

2 Pesti Hirlap, November 27, 1892, XIV, no. 328. Wahrmann’s obituaries were collected in “Néhai Wahrmann Mór országgyűlési képviselő, a Pesti Izraelita Hitközség elnöke stb. stb. emlékezete” [Rememberances of the Deceased Mór Wahrmann, Member of Parliament and President of the Budapest Jewish Congregation] by the Magyar Zsidó Múzeum és Levéltár [Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives], Budapest.

3 For a comprehensive account of Wahrmann’s life, see Tibor Frank, “Magyar és zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 11–36. For collected primary sources, see: Országos Széchényi Könyvtár [National Széchényi Library], “Jüdische Delikatessen,” Öregebb Bonyhády Perczel István, Oct. Hung. 730.

4 Vasárnapi Ujság, December 4, 1892, XXXIX, no. 49.

5 Sándor Hegedűs, “Wahrmannról,” Vasárnapi Ujság, December 4, 1892.

6 In 1882, the Jews of Tiszaeszlár were accused of ritual murder in connection with their Passover celebration. The ritual murder trial, in which Károly Eötvös acted as the defense attorney of the accused Jews, became one of the notorious events in the history of late nineteenth-century Hungarian anti-Semitism.

7 Pesti Napló Esti Lapja, November 28, 1892, no. 329.

8 Egyetértés, November 27, 1892, no. 328.

9 Sándor Bűcher, “Wahrmann Mór életrajza,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle 10, no. 3 (1893): 9.

10 Samu Haber, “Wahrmann Mórról,” Egyenlőség, December 2, 1892, XI, no. 49.

11 Magyar Állam, November 30, 1892, III, no. 274.

12 Neue Freie Presse, November 28, 1892, no. 10153.

13 About this contract see András Kovács, “A magyar zsidók és a politika,” Világosság 39, no. 2 (1998): 78.

14 “Börzeviczy W. M. élczei,” Borsszem Jankó, December 4, 1892, 4.

15 The joke still had enough traction as late as 1972 to find its way into Georg Lukács’ autobiography, Gelebtes Denken, where he characterized his father’s conformism and patriotism with the dismissive phrase: “Jewish ambassador in Budapest.”

16 A version of the episode found inclusion in one of Wahrmann’s obituaries, which recounted that, “[m]any of his [Wahrmann’s] former colleagues in parliament still remember the following witty saying of his. It took place during the outbreak of anti-Semitism, when Istóczy suggested that the Jews of Hungary should be deported to Jerusalem. Wahrmann humorously commented on this idea to his friends: ‘The plan is not a bad one and I have no objections to it. But I reserve the right to stay among you as ambassador from Jerusalem.’” “Wahrmann Mór” Egyetértés, November 27, 1892, no. 328.

17 For a full version of the incident, including its sources, see Tibor Frank, “Magyar és zsidó: a Wahrmann-életrajz kérdései,” in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 36–37.

18 For an analysis of this problem, see Zygmunt Bauman, “Allosemitism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern,” in Modernity, Culture and ‘the Jew’ ed. Bryan Cheyette and Laura Marcus (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1998), 143–56.

19 Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley–Los Angeles–London: University of California Press, 1969), 324.

20 Lajos Nagy, “Este van,” Nyugat I, no. 10, May 16, 1908, 554–58.

21 Idem, A lázadó ember, 1883–1914 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1956), 484–87.

22 “Polgári házasság,” Borsszem Jankó, April 3, 1881, 10.

23 Porzó (Adolf Ágai), Utazás Pestről – Budapestre 1843–1907: Rajzok és emlékek a magyar főváros utolsó 65 esztendejéből (Budapest: Fekete Sas Kiadó, 1998), 408.

24 “Az országházból,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle I, no. 9 (1884): 580.

25 Béla Vajda, “A zsidóság és a prozelita-csinálás,” Magyar Zsidó Szemle XII, no. 3 (1895): 260.

26 Budapesti Hirlap, November 30, 1892, XII, no. 331.

27 “A Tisza-eszlári gyilkosság,” Függetlenség, July 1, 1882.

28 Lajos Palágyi, “Zsidók a társaságban,” Egyenlőség, November 17, 1890, VIII, no. 42, 7–8.

29 Ibid.

30 Pesti Hirlap, November 27, 1892, XIV, no. 328.

31 Budapesti Hirlap, November 30, 1892, XII, no. 331.

32 Nemzet, November 27, 1892.

33 Szabadság, November 27, 1892, XVII, no. 293.

34 Borsszem Jankó, November 4, 1884.

35 Ibid., October 5, 1879.

36 Ibid., December 4, 1881.

37 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a képviselőházban.” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Victor Turner, “Social Dramas in Brazilian Umbanda: The Dialectics of Meaning,” in Victor Turner, The Anthropology of Performance (New York: PAJ Publications, 1986), 3.

41 Ibid.

42 Victor Turner, “Social Dramas,” in idem, From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play (New York: PAJ Publications, 1982), 71.

43 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a kéviselőházban,” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

44 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann féle ügy,” Függetlenség, June 11, 1882.

45 “Az Istóczy–Wahrmann botrány a képviselőházban,” Függetlenség, June 10, 1882.

46 “A Wahrmann–Istóczy ügy,” Egyetértés, June 11, 1882.

47 “Istóczy és Wahrmann párbaja: A párbaj meghiúsitása a lóverseny téren,” Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

48 “Budától Ercsiig,” Függetlenség, June 12, 1882.

49 “A zsidó papság és a zsidóság,” Függetlenség, June 14, 1882.

50 Turner, “Social Dramas,” 71.

51 Frontispiece, Borsszem Jankó, June 15, 1882.

52 Kálmán Mikszáth, “A hősök sorsa. Karcolat,” Pesti Hirlap, March 29, 1883. Cited in Honszeretet és felekezeti hűség, 568.

53 Ron H. Feldman, “Introduction: The Jew as Pariah: The case of Hannah Arendt,” in Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings, ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), li.

54 Hannah Arendt, “The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition,” in The Jewish Writings, 280.


Figure 1. Ceremonial image of Wahrmann

Source: Neues Politischer Volksblatt,
November 27, 1892


Figure 2. Wahrmann’s Funeral Procession

Source: Neues Politischer Volksblatt,
November 30, 1892


pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Frank Henschel

Religions and the Nation in Kassa before World War I

The paper aims to evaluate the role of religion in the everyday life of a multilingual town in the former Hungarian Kingdom in the second half of the long nineteenth century. It focuses in particular on the adaptation to and adoption of nationalist discourse and practice in religious communities. Religion as traditional and nation as modern ideological concept and symbolic order competed against each other for influence in society. However, religious representatives and nationalist activists also worked together in mutual initiatives. The main goal of the Hungarian nationalist program was linguistic homogenization, i.e. the Magyarization of society, and churches were assigned a special role in this project. They provided the possibility of gaining mass attention and could serve for mass inducement. At the same time, church institutions and services were spaces of everyday multilingual practice in mixed lingual areas. In the end, different confessional communities in Kassa (German: Kaschau; today Košice, Slovakia)1 showed different strategies. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, due to the resistance from the majority of believers or church clerks (who protested against Hungarian-only services), remained multilingual up to World War I. Other communities transformed themselves quite smoothly from multilingual to Hungarian-only and therefore “patriotic” or “loyal” communities, e.g. the Jewish Reform (Neolog) Community or the Local Greek Catholics, whereas the Calvinists had always regarded themselves as the true “Magyar Denomination.” In general, the churches always played a vital role in the social and cultural life of the town, in school and educational systems, in associations, or in the culture of memory. But many questions and discussions of the era were linked to nationalist requirements and objectives which concerned the church representatives.

Keywords: confessional community, church, multilingual town, Kassa/Košice/Kaschau, Magyarization, nationalism

The Nineteenth Century: Age of Confession or Age of Nation?

For a long time, the nineteenth century was primarily regarded as the age of emerging industrialization and the rise of the nation state, whereas the significance of religion was marginalized, since secularization seemed to have succeeded. Religion was considered a mere pre-modern, traditional factor of the ancient régime, and religious belief was said to have been replaced by the modern belief in the nation as a rational type of collective organization. Theorists of nationalism tended to exclusively tie nation and modernity to the progress of secularity.2

In 1995 Dieter Langewiesche, in an elucidating review on the international historiography of nationalism, still ascertained a certain “blindness on confession.”3 The historiography of East-Central Europe also widely neglected the religious factor in studies of nationalism and national movements.4 The relevance of religion within modern societies was reconsidered in general. Calling into question the abovementioned hegemonic narrative of the nineteenth century, Olaf Blaschke claimed that at least for Germany it is better described as a “second confessional age,” emphasizing the high relevance of church and religion in different domains of society.5 In his monumental Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, Jürgen Osterhammel confirmed this assessment from a global perspective. 6

As a result, the late nineteenth century has to be regarded as both an age of the nation and an age of religion. But how can we describe the relationship between religion and nation(alism)? Instead of simply opposing religion and nation, Hartmut Lehmann analyzed them in a more complex and dialectic context. Neither was religion unaffected by the rise of the new national semantics, nor did nationalism simply replace it. In fact, the development can be better described as mutual adaptation, as a “secularization of religion and consecration of the nation.”7 Martin Schulze Wessel refined the concept towards a sophisticated approach of mutual “nationalization of religion and consecration of nation.” Instead of contending that nationalism marginalized or replaced religion, he encouraged a focus on “the processes of displacement, hybridization and synthetization of religion and nationalism.”8

Nationalists, in East-Central Europe and elsewhere, used functions and forms of expression of religion for propaganda and mass mobilization, and religious representatives and institutions had to and often wanted to adapt to nationalist ideas in order to compete for authority, influence and resources.9 The churches remained a very important, if not the most important sphere, especially in small and middle towns, where people of nearly all social classes took part in religious life. This is why nationalists attached considerable importance to these institutions, since in doing so they were able to reach broader parts of the local society. I therefore would like to offer a detailed study of the attitude of the six religious communities of Kassa towards the Hungarian national idea during the period that began in the second half of the nineteenth century and lasted until the outbreak of World War I. Since the length of this article is limited, I won’t be able to make more than a few observations about local practices of the “consecration of the nation,” but I do take into account “the diverse manners in which religious and national practice overlapped and interrelated, which led rather to mutual amplification, not supersession of religion by nation.”10

“Nation,” “Ethnicity” and the nationality question in the Nineteenth-century Hungarian Kingdom

With the Compromise of 1867, Hungary became a nearly independent, autonomous state within the Austro–Hungarian Dual Monarchy.11 In addition to its confessional heterogeneity, it was one of the most multilingual and multinational states in Europe. The titular people, the “Magyars,” formed a relative majority of 54.5 percent within the state only just before World War I according to the 1910 census. The fear of the demise of “Magyars” and their language and the attempt to build a modern nation-state led to the emergence of a strong Magyar nationalism. Nationalists propagated the Magyarization of the country, i.e. the linguistic homogenization and assimilation of the “nationalities” or “national minorities.” The most populous nationalities in Hungary were the Germans, the Romanians and Slovaks. With the nationality law, which was passed in 1868, everyone was indeed allowed to use his or her mother tongue when addressing lower levels of administration. However, the status of Hungarian as the official language was unquestioned, as was the principle of the “national unity” of the country. This was a clear denial of collective rights for “non-Magyars” and more or less a compulsion to assimilate into the Hungarian nation. This pressure also led to resistance in the form of separate national movements within the kingdom. Magyar nationalism and national movements among the minorities in Hungary are therefore important aspects of the complex “national question” in Hungary.12

This brief overview shouldn’t offer a misleading portrayal of the character of “nationality.” It is clearly not an objective and stable feature of individuals or groups, but has to be understood as a highly constructed product of the discourses and practices of nationalist activists, who claimed to speak for a specific “national” or “ethnic” group.13 According to Rogers Brubaker, both “Nation” and “Ethnicity” are specific interpretative sets or prisms, “a way of making sense of the social world,” just slightly differing regarding the founding categories. The basic misconception is that “Nation” is an inclusive, liberal, tolerant, and modern concept, whereas “Ethnicity” is an exclusive, repressive and primordial one. Both are highly intertwined, since every national idea, may it be liberal and tolerant as the Hungarian one was in some respects, bears ethnicized borders that can be used for the demarcation of “them” and “us.”14 Taking this into account, I will also avoid the ascription of national group identity to an unspecific collective in Kassa, e.g. talking about “the Slovaks,” “the Germans,” “the Ruthenes” or “the Magyars” of the town, since this would be a retrospective ethnicization of the past. Were I to use such terms, I would be taking for granted constant, unchanging ethnic or national groups in history.15

Regarding the relationship between nation and religion in Hungary, the “nationality question” did not arise in a secularized environment, although the Hungarian political elite followed an agenda of strict liberalism.16 Nonetheless, as Árpád von Klimó has pointed out, the century between 1848 and 1948 can be characterized as a “confessional age.”17 Religion mattered in Hungary, but the relationship between religion and the nation was a complex one. Since there was no single denomination that could be connected with the nation (as was the case in France, Spain and Britain), every church had to position itself individually with regard to nationalist programs. My analysis of a single city will uncover how different religious communities dealt with the national idea.

The question is if and how the Hungarian national idea and practice were adapted by churches in Kassa. Did they remain multi-lingual, “non-national” spaces, did they support Magyarization, or, in contrast, did they provide the foundation for the emerging minority nationalism of “Slovaks” or “Germans.”18

I venture answers to these questions in this article. I provide a short introduction to the history, structure, staff and affairs of the six local communities: Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Orthodox Jews and Neolog (Reform) Jews. How were they regarded by nationalist activists? What conflicts arose due to the fulfilling or failing of nationalist claims? Did church representatives engage in nationalist programs and campaigns? Did the communities take measures to meet the expectations of nationalist activists, and if so, what were these measures, and what expectations were they trying to meet?

Religion and Nation in Kassa

Kassa was (and actually is) characterized by an outstanding diversity of religions, which mirrored the profound linguistic diversity (see Table 1). Roman Catholicism remained the dominant confession over time, but the smaller communities consolidated and even gained new members. Between 1880 and 1910, the percentage of inhabitants of the city that followed the Roman Catholic Church declined from 70 percent to 63 percent. In contrast, the percentage of the population that was Greek Catholic increased from 6.5 to 8 percent, Calvinists from 4 to 8 percent, and the percentage of citizens of (one of the) Jewish Confession(s) expanded from 11 to 15 percent. Only the Lutheran Church lost a respectable share in the population – from nearly 8 down to 5.5 percent. This shift in the ranking of churches was—in comparison with other Hungarian cities of the same size, like Székesfehérvár, Pécs, Győr and Miskolc—a unique feature of Kassa.19




















































Inhabitants in total











Table 1. Inhabitants and mother tongues in Kassa 1857–191020

Catholics between Panslavism and Magyarization

The two Catholic denominations of Kassa—Roman and Greek—constituted an absolute majority. In Hungary the bishop of Esztergom as entitled Prince-Primate controlled the dioceses, abbeys and other church institutions. He also was in charge of the Greek Catholics, who in the Union of Uzhorod (1646) had accepted the pope as head of the church but adhered to their orthodox rites and liturgy.21

Although the Greek Catholic community could be viewed as something a bit exotic in Kassa, they actually looked back on a long local tradition as well as a contemporary atmosphere of tolerance regarding their religious culture and practice. As early as the late fifteenth century, even before the official Union, Christian Orthodox believers lived in Kassa and its surroundings.22 Some historians equate the Greek Catholic belief with the ethnic group of Ruthenians, an eastern Slavonic people living in Transylvania, Galicia and the Carpatho-Ukraine, a region east of Kassa. Their belief and the use of Old Church Slavonic as the language of liturgy distinguished them from other denominations, but the idea that they saw themselves as a special ethnic group is questionable.23 At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Greek Catholics of Kassa were subordinated to the eparchie (Greek Catholic diocese) of Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia). They lacked an administration and chapel of their own, but the Roman Catholic bishop of Kassa allowed them to use the Franciscan Monastery in the city center. Nevertheless, representatives of the faith, specifically the chaplain Matej Bräuer (1817–71),24 a teacher at secondary school and city councilor, continued to push for an upgrade of the Greek Catholic community to an autonomous parish. His involvement in local schooling and politics already indicates the integration of Greek Catholics in Kassa. Bräuer’s successor Julius Viszlocky (1832–1907) finally succeeded in collecting thousands of Gulden for the erection of a Greek Catholic Church, which was finished in 1901.25 The fact that the lion’s share of the 40,000 Gulden project was contributed by people of other confessions in Kassa and the whole country confirms the contention that the Greek Catholic Church was seen as an integral part of the local society.

Although even in the new chapel the old liturgy in the Slavonic language was used, the community didn’t come under fire from nationalists. An occasion for Greek Catholics to demonstrate their national loyalty came in 1896, the year of the Hungarian “Millennium.”26 Chaplain Viszloczky arranged a festival service and gave a patriotic speech in Hungarian, which had to be translated for the audience. Ten years later, on the occasion of the reburial of Prince Ferencz Rákóczi II in Kassa,27 the press praised Viszloczky for organizing a mass service in the Greek Catholic chapel in Hungarian, which no longer needed to be translated. This, in the eyes of Hungarian nationalists, demonstrated the efforts of the community to assimilate linguistically and represented an example of extraordinary patriotism.28

The Greek Catholic leaders encouraged the national assimilation of their believers. The last step was taken by the Bishop of Eperjes’ eparchie Miklós Csoma (1863–1922), who pushed for the comprehensive Magyarization of the community. In 1909, the bond between the Greek Catholic church and the Hungarian nation became irresolvable. A country-wide congregation met in Kassa and decided to abolish the Old Church Slavonic language from all church services in favor of Hungarian. This, according to Bishop Csoma, was an expression of love and loyalty to the nation, which was given the same value as the love to Christ.29

Thus, the Greek Catholic community of Kassa seemed to have adapted quite smoothly to the Hungarian national idea. This followed an integrative strategy. By breaking with the character of strangers and strengthening the support for their administrative autonomy, the Greek Catholic priests and bishops tried conspicuously to adapt to the ruling national concept of the united Hungarian state-nation by switching languages and showing patriotism.

In contrast, the negotiation of the relationship between religion and nation in the Roman Catholic community reveals much more ambivalence and conflict. In general, as research on Catholicism and nationalism indicated, there was an elementary difficulty of harmonizing the transnational, ultramontane character of the papal church with nationalist demands for nation-centered loyalty.30 In the special case of Hungary the tight bond of Roman Catholicism and the Habsburg emperors always provoked strong anti-Catholic resentments among Hungarian nationalists, although most Hungarians were actually Catholics.31

As of 1804, Kassa was a diocesan town. The share of Roman Catholic believers among the city’s population decreased, but the church held the dominant position within the urban society. In addition to the bishops, several Roman Catholic representatives played a vital role in various institutions. The chaplain Endre Kozora, for example, was elected head-solicitor of the city under the 34 year-long leadership of mayor Tivadar Münster and thus one of the most influential people within the magistrate. The bishops and many Roman Catholic officials were institutionally and personally involved in diverse activities related to Magyarization. Thus the church itself wasn’t a target of nationalist attacks, but the local order of Dominicans was due to its language practice. In particular, József Timkó (1843–99), the editor-in-chief of the most nationalist weekly, Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, who was yearlong assemblyman and—not unimportantly—a Lutheran, used his public roles to agitate against their alleged “Panslavism.” Timkó argued that the Dominicans were spreading Slovak nationalism by holding church services in Slovak and using the language in elementary schools. He demanded the formation of a committee that would investigate the activities of the order. The idea was supported even by Roman Catholics like the theologian and subsequent school inspector Márton Mártonffy (1848–1917), who published a plea for the national mission of the Roman Catholic Church. According to him, the Church had the duty to magyarize the non-Hungarian “nationalities” among its believers by introducing Hungarian services and patriotic sermons.32

The targets among the Dominicans were the priests Anton Dominik Rašovsky (1815–94) and Hyacinth Vlačil (1857–92). They were accused of being “fanatic panslavists,”33 because they ordered Slovak-speaking prayer books, which was regarded as an attempt to “slovakize” the city.34 Strangely enough, accusations were even interchangeable. In 1895, the slightly less nationalist newspaper Felsőmagyarország called the Dominicans a “cancer” because the order ostensibly had submitted some documents in German to the financial board of Kassa. Now, the friars undoubtedly were “Germanizators.”35

After several years of recurring attacks, the head of the order, Father Gergely, submitted a long letter to the press, in which he explained his standpoint to the nation and defended the practices of his priests. According to him, the order already limited Slovak-speaking services to the level that was still necessary. The main services had been held in Hungarian for years. But since there were still a lot of Slovak-speaking believers, the order couldn’t put a complete end to services in Slovak. However, Gergely assured the public, everyone was committed to use all means to encourage patriotism and the use of the Hungarian language.36 So, in the end, nationalist activists forced the order to issue a statement regarding their position towards the nation.

The concentration on the Dominicans should not lead to a misunderstanding of the practice with regards to language in other Roman Catholic churches of Kassa: the Dome of the Holy Elisabeth—the biggest cathedral in the region—, the Michael-Chapel, the Premonstratensian-Abbey, the Franciscan-Abbey and the Ursuline-Abbey—not to mention the numerous smaller chapels in the city’s periphery. The Roman Catholic bishops and priests of Kassa in general had to be aware of the linguistic diversity of their community. Even in the Dome, Slovak-speaking services were provided until World War I. Priests mostly had to master at least two languages, which again was regarded as scandalous in the Hungarian nationalist press.37

For the common believers, language use in church had little to do with the demonstration of national loyalty. Language, rather, was a tool with which to serve individual needs for religious guidance. This was without a doubt best fulfilled in one’s mother tongue or a common language, which in many cases wasn’t Hungarian, even if people understood or spoke it in other situations. Ignoring the desire of the believers to at least pray and confess in the language of their choice also led to open conflict. In more than one case, some of the congregations stubbornly and resolutely insisted on the services being held in Slovak and even interrupted the priests and started a fray.38 To classify such a spontaneous event as nationally motivated would be a misleading conclusion. This wasn’t an expression of a specific national consciousness, but a demand for appropriate language use as usual.

Taking this into account, it’s hardly surprising that the Fathers of the Dominican order were not the only people who were accused of not fulfilling their national duties. The bishops had to cope with attacks in the press too, due to the fact that church services continued to be held in the three main languages of the city, German, Slovak and Hungarian. The newspaper Kassai Hirlap argued that 98 percent of the city’s population was able at least to understand Hungarian, so the author asked why bishop Zsigmond Bubics (1821–1907, bishop 1886–1907) allowed priests to use several languages, even though he in general was an advocate of Magyarization.39 Bubics, for example, even tried to influence Greek Catholics who had emigrated to the United States of America by sending priests who would re-Magyarize or de-Americanize them.40

In fact every bishop—whether we are speaking of Bubics’ predecessor Constantin Schuster (1817–99, bishop 1877–86) or his successor Ágoston Fischer-Colbrie (1863–1925, bishop 1907–25)—was engaged in associations and campaigns which served to propagate Hungarian national identity, language and culture. In doing so, they always were flanked by other Roman Catholic officials like Menyhért Takács. The vicar of the Premonstratensian order served for a long time as head of the Közművelődési Egyesület (Society of Public Education), the main instrument of Magyarization in Kassa, which was under auspices of the bishops and the főispán, the governor of the Abaúj-Torna district, the capital of which was Kassa.

The main engagement of Roman Catholic officials in nationalist affairs didn’t take place during church services, but rather on occasions that were part of the public culture of memory. Every event of “national” importance, e.g. the anniversary of the Revolution of 1848, the “Hungarian Millennium” in 1896, or the cult of Ferenc Rákóczi II, was celebrated in the Dome of St. Elisabeth with huge services. The “nationalization of religion and consecration of nation” was most obvious on these festivities. Roman Catholicism and the “nation” were at least temporarily bound together in the performance and staging of national collective memory.41 In general, the Roman Catholic community remained multilingual, and for most believers, the church was still a rather non-national marked sphere of everyday life.

Protestants and Ethnic Segregation

The Protestant communities of Lutherans and Calvinists differed remarkably in their adaptation to Hungarian national idea. The latter had already been generally analyzed as bearing the self-image of being the true “Magyar confession,” since they had always used Hungarian and had fostered myths of struggling for the best of the nation since the sixteenth century.42 The Hungarian Lutherans, in contrast, used various strategies. Some felt as exceptional as the Calvinists in respect of their ethno-national quality as “Magyars.” German-speaking Lutherans, on the one hand, fostered a state-centered patriotism, which acknowledged multilingualism and multiethnicity. Some Slovak-speaking communities, on the other, developed a separate national idea, based on the strong ties between the lower Lutheran clergy and the Slovak speakers of the community.43

As far as the Calvinists of Kassa were concerned, the above statement was true. They cultivated an image of themselves as the national elite, which was expressed, for example, by the construction of the highest spire in the city in 1895, measuring 40 meters. The censuses—though the results should be interpreted critically—indicated a rate of 98 percent of Calvinists in Kassa who identified themselves as “Magyars.” According to a local Calvinist chronicle, the community was proud that it always used the Hungarian language in church and was the strongest supporter if not the founder of the “Kuruc” movement, a series of anti-Habsburg rebellions in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led by princes like the prominent members of the Rákóczi family.44 Ironically, the Calvinists of Kassa were not willing to tear down their church in favor of the construction of a statue of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II.45 However, all in all nationalist ideology was deeply integrated into religious practice, the more so as many Calvinist officials held positions in magyarizing institutions like the Közművelődési Egyesület. But the confessional elitist and nationalist attitude of Calvinists did not lead to total segregation from other communities. Together with the Lutherans they organized several cultural events in the Grand Hotel Schalkház, which were also joined by Catholic or Jewish personalities.46

Whereas Calvinists represented themselves as the Magyar confession, Lutherans had to deal with the same situation as the Roman Catholics. The community was multilingual, since speakers of Hungarian, German and Slovak were among the believers. Using their administrative autonomy,47 the Lutheran church found its own solutions to the situation.

In mid-nineteenth-century Kassa two communities existed that were separated along linguistic borders. Contemporaries, however, obviously tried to avoid the impression of ethno-national segregation, since they simply named the German-Hungarian the “First” and the Slovak the “Second” community. Both shared one church in the city center. But it cannot be assumed that national arguments did not play an important role. Since the Slovak-speakers formed the overwhelming majority within the whole Lutheran church in Kassa compared to German- or Hungarian-speakers, the unification of the latter two in the 1840s can be interpreted as an attempt to form a block against a formidable “Slovak” hegemony. It was presumably expected that German-speaking Lutherans would soon magyarize themselves. Afterwards, a powerful “Magyar community” could more easily absorb the “Slovak” one by arranging a second unification. But up to the end of the nineteenth century German remained the predominant language even in the “First” community. Because of this, Abauj-Kassai Közlöny published a plea to all Lutherans asking them to support Hungarian-language church services, which often were poorly attended.48

The second (“Slovak”) community nevertheless worked steadily and despite the tense situation nearly undisturbed. Up to the late 1880s, it even ran a Slovak-speaking elementary school, which later fell victim to the Magyarization of the school system.49 After the turn of the century, the question of language became virulent again. The “German-Hungarian” community felt strong enough to promote a merger. A roundtable was created by the lawyer Géza Benczur (1843–1908) and priest János Csikó for the “German–Hungarian” community, and the teacher János Kresz (1843–1912) and priest István Homola (1864–1952) for the “Slovak” community. These four representatives decided to merge the two communities, which in the end was supposed to result in the abolition of all non-Hungarian church services.50 But the Lutheran believers themselves had to be asked for approval in separate assemblies. Despite a plea of Kresz to his Slovak-speaking believers to show “national morals,” they refused the unification.51 Services in Slovak and German remained untouched until World War I.

To understand the complexity of the case, one should note that it wasn’t only the program of Magyarization that led to negotiations for unification. The financial problems of the Lutheran church at the time had led to a cut-back in staff.52 Therefore it would have saved a lot of money to recruit just one or two priests with knowledge of Hungarian instead of three or four with knowledge of different languages. Furthermore, church officials hoped to gain financial support from the city’s magistrate with which to maintain the Lutheran elementary school in exchange for formally magyarizing the community.

In the end, the unification of the “German–Hungarian” and “Slovak” community never happened. Both communities refused to vote in its favor. The Slovak-speaking believers—despite the insistent plea of Kresz—feared the abolishment of Slovak-speaking church services. The “German–Hungarian” community also stopped all negotiations because the representatives feared a “Slovak” majority in the church institutions—although there never was a Slovak-national movement based on the Lutheran church in the region.53

Schism and Assimilation: the Local Jewry

Jews were in a historical sense the “youngest” religious group in Hungary, since their immigration increased just around the turn of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. They came from all over Europe and the Monarchy to Hungary, since in 1840 nearly every legal restriction for the settlement of Jews was banned in the law XXIX/1840. Full equality was only legalized in 1896, when the Judaism was granted the same legal status as Christian denominations. However, as Viktor Karády has described, Jewish immigration to Hungary was promoted by an implicit “Assimilatory Contract.” This contract included the grant of full civil rights and protection against discrimination or anti-Semitic violence in exchange for linguistic and national assimilation to Magyardom. Jews were regarded as the missing percentage that would help to lift the share of “Magyars” in Hungary from a relative to an absolute majority compared to the national minorities.54 Other historians have therefore characterized Jewish strategies of assimilation in Hungary as “Magyar–Jewish Symbiosis.”55

Jews had lived in Kassa since the fifteenth century, but the consolidation of the local Jewish community dates back to 1844, when Abraham Seelenfreund was elected rabbi. The first prayer room was situated in Harang-út (today Zvonárska) on the brink of the city center, but it soon provided too little space for the rapidly growing community. In 1867, they erected one of the country’s biggest synagogues in the Old Town, but soon the emerging schism in Hungarian Jewry affected the community in Kassa, too. At the Jewish Congress in Pest in 1869, Jewish Orthodoxy separated from Reform-Jewry (called “Neologs”), which sought to modernize the religion in theory and practice and voted for further secularization towards an ethno-national assimilation.56

The Neolog-community in Kassa was soon a clear majority within the Jewish community. In 1899, 2,500 males were declared members of the reform community, in contrast to just 1,600 of the orthodox.57 From the 1870s onwards, the Orthodoxy tried desperately to achieve its interests, be it a separate cemetery for orthodox funeral rites or a separate synagogue. Even after Markus Hirsch, a Budapest Rabbi who was sent by Minister of Culture József Eötvös to mediate the conflict, attested full congruence between the new contested synagogue and religious rules, local Orthodoxy refused to use it.58 However, bit by bit Orthodoxy lost ground, since a socio-economic, demographic and religious change took place, as Sándor Márai, the great “biographer” of fin-de-siècle Kassa, describes in his memoirs. 59

The consequence of the ongoing modernization of Jewry in Kassa was a changing self-relation towards the Hungarian national idea, but assimilation did not change everything immediately. Up to the turn of the century, multilingualism in the communities, whether the orthodox or the neolog, was an unquestioned practice. The Jewish elementary school taught Hebrew and German; most Jewish associations, e.g. the Charity Club of Godparents, used German in their meetings and for written correspondence, educated Jews in general used German and Hungarian equally.60 Therefore, more than once the liberal-nationalist press, in a strange phalanx with the conservative Catholic press, attacked local Jewry for using German in public or within community life.61

There was no climate of permanent Anti-Semitism, but there was remarkable pressure to assimilate to the “Magyar” majority. This pressure, in connection with a desire for definite acceptance on behalf of Jewish representatives, led to a final decision. In 1904, the Jewish neolog community decided to magyarize itself. The respected physicians József Spatz and Elek Neuwirth submitted a proposal which stipulated the exclusive use of Hungarian for church services, correspondence and meetings. Violation of the stipulation was threatened with sanctions. The Jewish elementary school had already switched from German to Hungarian as the language of instruction. Furthermore, every member should be obliged to join the “Közművelődési Egyesület,” the main instrument of local Magyarization.62

This was not the first expression of strategic assimilation within the Jewry of Kassa, but it was a remarkable one, since it affected all community members. Ten years earlier, the wealthier among them had already founded the “Kassai Társaskör” to promote Magyarization within the Jewish upper class.63

There were also remarkable individual actors who can be described as national activists. One of them was the lawyer Sámu Fényes (1863 as Feuerlicht–1937), who founded the “Sovinista Egyesület” in 1901, which introduced strong nationalist semantics into the field of local economy.64 In his fight for general suffrage, Fényes emphasized its importance for the regions in Hungary, where according to him the system of voting at the time privileged the leaders of nationality movements, like Slovak or Romanian priests.65


The question I have sought to address in this essay concerns how the six religious communities in multilingual Kassa positioned themselves with regards to the Hungarian national idea during the age of Austro–Hungarian Dualism. National activists claimed supremacy for the Hungarian language, demanded individual and collective assimilation of non-Hungarian “nationalities,” and regarded the use of other languages as a sign of a lack of national loyalty or an attempt to cultivate a separatist national idea. One can venture the conclusion that no religious community remained unaffected by nationalist demands and claims, but the scope of Magyarization was quite different from denomination to denomination. The small community of Calvinists regarded itself as an originally and essentially “Magyar” denomination. They did not have to find a new way to adapt to the national idea, but strengthened their symbolic affiliation.

The other communities had to cope with the challenges of Magyarization in a more complex way. They all looked back on long traditions of multilingualism and an institutionalized system of church services in different languages. Quite often, even the language of church administration was not Hungarian, but was at least in part German/Hebrew (Jews), German/Slovak (Lutherans), Old Church Slavonic (Greek Catholics) or Latin (Roman Catholics). All denominations were confronted with demands for Magyarization, but in different ways.

The most complex case was the Roman Catholic Church. It represented the overwhelming majority of people in Kassa, but therefore had to manage the widest diversity of mother or colloquial languages. It was under steady surveillance by national activists, even more so because Catholicism was seen as something in opposition to the mostly Protestant national-liberal political elite. Thus, the officials tried to demonstrate loyalty to the nation. Bishops, priests and other representatives were engaged in several local nationalist institutions. They were involved in Hungarian nationalist memory culture and promoted the “consecration of the nation.” They tried to increase the number of church services in Hungarian, but linguistic homogenization failed because churchgoers also stood up against Magyarization, since it affected the very private practice of praying.

The Lutheran church was confronted with the same problems, since their community was trilingual and until the mid-nineteenth century separated into three entities. After unification, a German–Hungarian and a Slovak community coexisted, but until World War I the leaders of both communities tried to enforce a final merger which in their eyes would lead to financial savings and Magyarization. This goal was not attained and a Slovak-speaking Lutheran community existed up until 1914, but never was a protagonist in a local or regional Slovak national movement.

Jews and Greek Catholics used different strategies. Both communities had a status of subtle “strangeness.” The Greek Catholics were a local particularity and had no country-wide church structure, but rather were subordinated to the Roman Catholic diocese until they were assigned an autonomous eparchy in Eperjes. Despite their “Slavic” background, they had little problem with local Hungarian nationalism and adapted to the Hungarian national idea by pushing forward linguistic Magyarization and ideologically avowing the fatherland. The bishops and priests had chosen an assimilative strategy to integrate their communities. They were able to avoid hostilities by replacing the Old Slavonic church language with Hungarian. They even generated support for the strengthening of their institutional autonomy.

The Jewry of Kassa, as the sole non-Christian community, was assigned a different status of strangeness. But here as in the whole country the mechanism of the “assimilatory contract” took effect. The schism of Hungarian Jews into Orthodox and Neologs lead to remarkable confessional conflict. Both competed for hegemony within the local community, but Neologs soon became the majority and thus their concept of national assimilation prevailed. Some turned into dedicated national activists, but it took until the first decade of the twentieth century to magyarize the community officially. Until then, and this is an important difference from the Greek Catholics, the Jews weren’t immune against attacks from the liberal nationalist or the conservative Catholic press, since many used the German language in business, public and private. But by World War I, the public, school and church life of the Neolog community was widely magyarized.

I have attempted to present the complex entanglements of religion and nation in a specific local context. Neither was there a simple replacement of religion by nation, nor was there complete immunization of multilingual, non-nationalist traditions in churches. Rather, there was mutual interaction that can be described as a local form of “nationalization of religion” and “consecration of the nation.”


Archival Sources

Archiv Mesta Košíc (= AMK) [Municipal Archive of Košice], Fond Magistratus (= FM)

Archive Materials on Košice Jewry, I/7, 1888, kart. 1701.

II/5252 1914, kart. 2281. Körmendy-Ékes, Lajos. A Rákóczi-szobor elhelyezése [The Placement of the Rákóczi-statue]. September 25, 1912.

VII/32-b 1888, kart. 1897. A kassai társaskör alapszabályai [Statutes of the Club of Kassa]. Kassa, June 5, 1893.

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1 It would be appropriate, given the perspective of the article, to use all three forms of the city’s name consistently in order to emphasize its multiethnic and multilingual character in the past (and actually also in the present). But for easier reading, I will restrict to the official Hungarian name from the period under discussion, knowing that it wasn’t a “Magyar” city in the nineteenth century (nor was it a purely “Slovak” or “German” one). For personal names I will also use the most popular form in the sources, the Hungarian one, although a German or Slovak form often existed as well.

2 Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983), 138; Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1962).

3 Dieter Langewiesche, “Nation, Nationalismus, Nationalstaat: Forschungsstand und Forschungsperspektiven,” Neue Politische Literatur 40 (1995): 216.

4 Hans-Christian Maner and Martin Schulze Wessel, “Einführung,” in Religion im Nationalstaat zwischen den Weltkriegen 1918–1939: Polen, Tschechoslowakei, Ungarn, Rumänien, ed. Hans-Christian Maner and Martin Schulze Wessel (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2002), 7–12.

5 Olaf Blaschke, “Das 19. Jahrhundert: Ein Zweites Konfessionelles Zeitalter?” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 26 (2000): 38–75.

6 Jürgen Osterhammel, Die Verwandlung der Welt: Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts (Munich: Beck, 2011), 1239.

7 Hartmut Lehmann, “Die Säkularisierung der Religion und die Sakralisierung der Nation im 20. Jahrhundert: Varianten einer komplementären Relation,” in Religion im Nationalstaat, 13–27.

8 Martin Schulze Wessel, “Die Nationalisierung der Religion und die Sakralisierung der Nation im östlichen Europa,” in Nationalisierung der Religion und Sakralisierung der Nation im östlichen Europa, ed. Martin Schulze Wessel (Stuttgart: F. Steiner Verlag, 2006), 9.

9 Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche, “Einleitung,” in Nation und Religion in Europa: Mehrkonfessionelle Gesellschaften im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Heinz-Gerhard Haupt and Dieter Langewiesche (Frankfurt am Main–New York: Campus Verlag GmbH, 2004), 11–23.

10 Joachim v. Puttkamer, “Nationalismus in Ostmitteleuropa: Eine Zwischenbilanz,” Zeitenblicke 6, no. 2 (2007): 27, accessed June 23, 2014, http://www.zeitenblicke.de/2007/2/puttkamer/index_html.

11 Agnes Deak, From Habsburg Neo-Absolutism to the Compromise: 1849–1867 (Bradenton: East European Monographs, 2008).

12 Robert J. W. Evans, “Der ungarische Nationalismus im internationalen Vergleich,” in Nationalismen in Europa: West- und Osteuropa im Vergleich, ed. Ulrike von Hirschhausen and Jörn Leonhard (Göttingen: Wallstein-Verl., 2001), 291–305; Alice Freifeld, Nationalism and the crowd in liberal Hungary, 1848–1914 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2000); Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd., 2008), 431–80; Szarka, László, ed., Hungary and the Hungarian Minorities: Trends in the Past and in Our Time (Highland Lakes, New Yersey: Atlantic Research and Publications Inc., 2004).

13 Pieter M. Judson, Guardians of the Nation. Activists on the language frontiers of imperial Austria (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 2006); Rogers Brubaker Ethnizität ohne Gruppen (Hamburg: Hamburger Ed., 2007) first published Rogers Brubaker, Ethnicity Without Groups (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 2004).

14 Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism reframed: Nationhood and the national question in the new Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997); Rogers Brubaker, “The Macnichean Myth: Rethinking the Distinction between ‘Civic’ and ‘Ethnic’ Nationalism,.” in Nation and National Identity: The European Experience in Perspective, ed. Hanspeter Kriesi et al. (Chur: Rüegger, 1999), 55–71; Rogers Brubaker, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2008), 15.

15 Jeremy King, “The Nationalization of Eastern Central Europe: Ethnicism, Ethnicity, and Beyond,” in Staging the Past: The Politics of Commemoration in Habsburg Central Europe, ed. Maria Bucur and Nancy M. Wingfield (West Lafayette: Purdue Univ. Press, 2001), 112–52.

16 István Diószegi, “Die Liberalen am Steuer: Der Ausbau des bürgerlichen Staatssystems in Ungarn im letzten Drittel des 19. Jahrhunderts,” in Liberalismus im 19. Jahrhundert: Deutschland im europäischen Vergleich: dreissig Beiträge, ed. Dieter Langewiesche (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988), 484–98; András Gergely, “Der ungarische Adel und der Liberalismus im Vormärz,” in Liberalismus im 19. Jahrhundert: Deutschland im europäischen Vergleich: dreissig Beiträge, 458–83.

17 Árpád von Klimó, “Ein »konfessionelles Zeitalter« Ungarns (1848–1948),” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Urs Altermatt and Franziska Metzger (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2007), 216.

18 There are numerous studies of multiethnic East-Central European cities, but only two of them focus in detail on religious communities: Till van Rahden, Juden und andere Breslauer (Göttingen–Bielefeld: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000); Iris Engemann, Die Slowakisierung Bratislavas: Universität, Theater und Kultusgemeinden 1918–1948 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2012).

19 Ernő Deák, Das Städtewesen der Länder der ungarischen Krone (1780–1918), vol. 2/A, Königliche Freistädte – Munizipalstädte 2. (Vienna: Verl. der Österr. Akad. der Wiss., 1989), 38, 62, 80, 124, 164.

20 Data taken from: Michal Potemra, Politický život v Košiciach v rokoch 1848–1900, vol. 2 (Košice: Štátna Vedecká Knižnica, 1983), 520; Pavol Šalamon, “Demografický vývoj Košíc v Rokoch 1848–1870 I,” Slovenská Archivistika 26, no. 1 (1991): 56–77; Pavol Šalamon, “Demografický vývoj Košíc v Rokoch 1870–1918 II,” Slovenská Archivistika 26, no. 2 (1991): 44–61.

21 Emanuel Turczynski, “Orthodoxe und Unierte,” in Die Konfessionen, ed. Adam Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch, vol. 4 of Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918 (Vienna: Verl. d. Österr. Akad. d. Wiss., 1995), 399–478.

22 The following information is taken from Gabriel Szeghy and Peter Jambor, Košickí gréckokatolíci: Dejiny farnosti v rokoch 1797–1950 (Košice: Gréckokatolícky farský úrad, 2007).

23 For an affirmative approach of Ruthenian nationality see Paul R. Magocsi, and Ivan Pop, Encyclopedia of Rusyn History and Culture (Toronto, Ont.: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2002). More critical of that Wolfdieter Bihl, “Die Ruthenen,” in Die Völker des Reichs, vol. 2, ed. Adam Wandruszka and Peter Urbanitsch, vol. 3.2 of Die Habsburgermonarchie 1848–1918 (Vienna: Verl. d. Österr. Akad. d. Wiss., 1980), 555–84.

24 All biographical data is, except as noted otherwise, taken from: Mária Mihóková, Slovník košických osobností: 1848–1918 (Košice: Štátna Vedecká Knižnica, 1995).

25 The history of the church construction in: Szeghy and Jambor, Košickí gréckokatolíci, 79–110.

26 Thomas Barcsay, “The 1896 Millennial Festivities in Hungary: An Exercise in Patriotic and Dynastic Propaganda,” in Festive Culture in Germany and Europe from the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century, ed. Karin Friedrich (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2000), 187–211.

27 On the Rákóczi-Cult in Košice see Frank Henschel, Vereinswesen und Erinnerungskultur in Kaschau / Košice / Kassa zwischen Nationalismus und stadtbürgerlichem Pragmatismus (1867–1918), Working Paper Series der Research Academy Leipzig 12. (Leipzig: Leipziger Univ.-Verl., 2013).

28 “Isteni tisztelet a hazáért a görög-katolikus templomban,” Napló, March 27, 1906, 2.

29 Pál Szarvady, “A kassai görögszertartásu r. katholikusok szervezkedése,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, April 22, 1909, 4–5.

30 Urs Altermatt, “Katholizismus und Nation: Vier Modelle in europäisch-vergleichender Perspektive,” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. Urs Altermatt and Franziska Metzger (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2007), 15–33.

31 Ernst Bruckmüller, “Österreich: Eine ‚katholische‘ Nation?” in Religion und Nation: Katholizismen im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, 69–93; Moritz Csáky, “Die römisch-katholische Kirche in Ungarn,” in Die Konfessionen, 285–89.

32 Márton Mártonffy, “A domonkosok és a magyarosodás ügye,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, November 27, 1884, 1.

33 “A tiszteletreméltó Domonkos atyákról,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, August 14, 1890, 3.

34 “Tótosító dominikánusok,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, September 4, 1890, 2.

35 “Csakazért is!” Felsőmagyarország, January 17, 1895, 3.

36 “A domonkosok és a hitélet magyarsága,” Felsőmagyarország, July 20, 1902, 4–5.

37 “Bonyodalmak a plébánosi állás betöltése körül,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, April 5, 1913, 1.

38 (Dr. H.) [Ignác Hohenauer,], “A magyar nyelv,” Felsőmagyarország, October 25, 1903, 1–2; “Slowaken gegen ungarischen Gottesdienst,” Kaschauer Zeitung, January 1, 1904, 1.

39 “Tót és német nyelv a kassai templomokban,” Kassai Hirlap, December 3, 1904, 1–2.

40 “Amerikai pánszlávok a kassai gör. kath. egyház ellen,” Kassai Hirlap, June 29, 1905, 2.

41 I’d like to refer to the publication in which I analyze parts of the local culture of memory of Kassa in detail: Henschel, Vereinswesen und Erinnerungskultur.

42 Árpád von Klimó, Nation, Konfession, Geschichte: Zur nationalen Geschichtskultur Ungarns im europäischen Kontext (1860–1948) (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003), 55–79.

43 Juliane Brandt, “Konfessionelle und nationale Identität in Ungarn: Die protestantischen Kirchen,” in Religion im Nationalstaat zwischen den Weltkriegen 1918–1939, 31–71.

44 Lajos Szabó, Kassai kálvinista krónika 1644–1944 (Kassa: Wiko, 1944).

45 Archiv Mesta Košíc (= AMK), Fond Magistratus (= FM), II/5252 1914, kart. 2281, Lajos Körmendy-Ékes, A Rákóczi-szobor elhelyezése, September 25, 1912.

46 “A Protestáns-estély,” Felsőmagyarország, March 15, 1910, 4.

47 Friedrich Gottas, “Die Geschichte des Protestantismus in der Habsburgermonarchie,” in Die Konfessionen, 495–543.

48 “A fővárosi lapok,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, January 8, 1880, 3.

49 Joachim v. Puttkamer, Schulalltag und nationale Integration in Ungarn: Slowaken, Rumänen und Siebenbürger Sachsen in der Auseinandersetzung mit der ungarischen Staatsidee 1867–1914 (Munich: Oldenbourg, 2003).

50 “Kassai evangélikusok egyesülése: Nincs több német és tót egyház,” Felsőmagyarország, May 13, 1903, 3–4.

51 Cs-y., “A kassai két evangelikus egyház egyesitési ügye,” Felsőmagyarország, October 7, 1904, 2–3.

52 “Die Vereinigung der beiden Kassaer evang. Kirchen,” Kaschauer Zeitung, May 14, 1903, July 4, 1903, July 9, 1903.

53 “Az egyházak egyesitése,”Kassai Hirlap, July 22, 1905, 3.

54 Viktor Karády, Juden in Ungarn: Historische Identitätsmuster und Identitätsstrategien (Leipzig: Simon-Dubnow-Inst. für Jüdische Geschichte u. Kultur, 1998); Viktor Karády, “Elitenbildung im multiethnischen und mutikonfessionellen Nationalstaat: Ungarn in der Doppelmonarchie 1867–1918,” in Aufsteigen und Obenbleiben in europäischen Gesellschaften des 19. Jahrhunderts: Akteure, Arenen, Aushandlungsprozesse, eds. Karsten Holste, Dietlind Hüchtker and Michael G. Müller (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2009), 63–81.

55 Rolf Fischer, Entwicklungsstufen des Antisemitismus in Ungarn: 1867–1939; die Zerstörung der magyarisch-jüdischen Symbiose (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1988); Peter Haber, “Ungarische Assimilationsstrategien,” in Jüdische Identität und Nation: Fallbeispiele aus Mitteleuropa, ed. Peter Haber, Erik Petry, and Daniel Wildmann (Cologne: Böhlau , 2006), 3–6. The importance of Jews for the Hungarian political establishment rapidly diminished after the Treaty of Trianon in 1920, because they were no longer needed as a surrogate of the modern bourgeoisie and allies against the national minorities. Vera Ránki, The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion: Jews and Nationalism in Hungary (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1999); Paul A. Hanebrink, In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890–1944 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 2006).

56 Wolfdieter Bihl, “Die Juden,” in Die Völker des Reichs, 880–948.

57 Alajos Klekner, “Vallási élet,” in A Kassai Egyetem: Emlékkönyv, ed. Kassa szab. kir. város tanférfiai (Kassa: Kassa szab. kir. város tanférfiai, 1901), 137–48.

58 Emanuel Enten, “Zur Geschichte der Juden in Košice (Kaschau),” Zeitschrift für die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei 2, no. 4 (1932): 279–91.

59 Sándor Márai, Bekenntnisse eines Bürgers: Erinnerungen (Munich: Piper, 2000), 12.

60 AMK, FM, Archive Materials on Košice Jewry 1888, I/7, kart. 1701.

61 “Germanizáló rabbi,” Abauj-Kassai Közlöny, September 10, 1891, 2; “A magyarosodás tengelyakasztói városunkban,” Felvidéki Ujság, June 18, 1908, 1.

62 “Patriotischer Antrag,” Kaschauer Zeitung, June 2, 1904, 2; “Terjed a magyarosodás: Egy hazafias indítvány,” Felsőmagyarország, May 31, 1904, 3.

63 AMK, FM VII/32-b 1888, kart. 1897, “A kassai társaskör alapszabályai,” Kassa, June 5, 1893.

64 Dr. M. I. [Mitzger Imre], “Sovinista egyesület,” Felsőmagyarország, April 24, 1901, 1.

65 “Egy szép beszédről,” Kassai Hirlap, September 10, 1905, 1–2.


pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Martin Jemelka

Religious Life in an Industrial Town The Example of Ostrava, 1850–1950*

In the first half of the twentieth century, Ostrava (Moravian Ostrava, Greater Ostrava), as the center of the Ostravian industrial area (with a high concentration of plants that use coal, iron, and steel and were involved in the chemical industry in the nineteenth century), was not only an important center of Austria–Hungary and then Czechoslovakia, but also served as an important center of modern religious life in the Czech lands. Between the two world wars, the Ostravian area was the center of the Czechoslovak atheistic movement, the National Czechoslovak Hussite Church, and the Middle-European spiritualistic movement. In this essay, which is based on records and statistic materials from Ostrava City Archive and other Czech archives, will map religious life of Moravian Ostrava in relation to two social groups, the working class and the middle class of both the Czech and the German speaking populations, including German speaking people of Jewish origin. The second observed phenomenon, proselytism, will be described based on Books of religious conversions of the Roman Catholic Parish Office from 1854 to 1920. I consider the frequency of conversions between individual confessions, the most frequent reasons given for conversion, mixed marriages within working class and middle class environments, and Jewish converts to Roman Catholicism.

Keywords: religious life, industrial town, atheistic movement, national church, spiritualistic movement, proselytism, Ostrava, 1850–1950

There is a stereotype prevalent in the Czech and Central European historical scholarship in connection with a territory of temporal Ostrava and the Ostrava industrial area according to which they were the most important centers of the coal and iron industries of the Austro–Hungarian Monarchy and Republic of Czechoslovakia.1 However, to mention Ostrava and the Ostrava industrial agglomeration2 as an important center of modern Czech, Czechoslovak and even Central European religious and spiritual history may sound a bit sensationalist.3 Nevertheless, Ostrava and Ostravsko underwent before and after World War I a dynamic economic, social and religious development that resulted in the emergence of interwar Ostrava as a center of the atheist movement, one of the Czechoslovak centers of the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church,4 and local spiritualists who changed Ostravsko into a Central European spiritualistic movement.5

The following text is devoted to collective (institutional) and individual actors of the religious and confessional development of the region of Ostrava in 1850–1950 on the basis of the example of Moravian Ostrava. First, I consider the two traditional institutions of that process, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church (the Evangelical Church of Augsburg) and the local Jewish community. The second part of the text is devoted to new institutional actors. They entered the religious life of the region and the whole state after World War I. The motivation for the establishment varied. The Czechoslovak Church used reformed Catholicism. The Association of Social Democratic Atheists was based on a scientific world view. The religious views of spiritualists were outside of the frames of institutional confessions. An analytical part of the text is addressed to inter-confessional mobility, conversions between individual confessions (with particular focus on conversions between Jews and Roman Catholics), and mixed marriages (which were the main reasons for conversions).

Traditional Actors in Religious Life in Terms of Industrial Cities

Up to the proclamation of the December Constitution in 1867, Moravian Ostrava kept the character of a homogenous town by confession, with clear domination of leading Roman Catholics. From the 1850s, however, the Roman Catholic town had to absorb Jewish immigrants from traditional Moravian Jewish centers and North-Eastern Hungary (Trencsén), and Lutherans from near Těšín Silesia. Up to January 1, 1907, a parish office of Moravian Ostrava provided the diocese and four other villages with 65,839 inhabitants (1900)6 and belonged to the deanery of Místek. The medieval church of Saint Wenceslas was the parish church up to the year 1890. Between the two world wars, the redemptorist convent for pastoral duties of the Eastern Catholics Rite emerged. It was then the newly built parish and dean Church of the Divine Saviour, with a capacity of 4,000 people, that was the second largest Roman Catholic church in Moravia, first consecrated in the year 1889.7

In Roman Catholic churches services had been held in Czech for a long time, but as of the 1880s attempts were made to preach in German as well, and in Moravian Ostrava Polish missionaries from the area of today’s Poland, who led the missions for the Catholics from Silesia and Galicia, also held services in Polish. The last decade of the nineteenth century brought the enforcement of bilingual sermons in the main church, which was a great wish of the urban congregation. So already at the end of the century the linguistic or national part of the congregation played an important role in local religious life.

In addition to Czech, German and Polish nationalists from the municipal council and members of the nationally conscious working class, another opponent to Roman Catholicism emerged around the year 1900, and not only in Ostrava. This new opponent was the socialistically oriented industrial working class. The workers of rural origin were confronted, in the difficult conditions of Ostravian agglomeration, with the harshness of the reality of the industrial region and severed from traditional agricultural society. Paradoxically, the vast majority of Ostravian clergy of the second half of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth originally came from the country.8 Priests who were not yet Roman Catholic were able, with some exceptions,9 to react around 1900 to the pastoral challenges of an industrial town and society, (matrimonial law and coexistence, birthrate regulation, political activities of labor.) The lack of social empathy, which can be excused by the rural origin of Ostravian clergy and its conservative value horizon, played a key role in the process of secularization, or at least in its interpretive narrative. This reality is retrospectively verified by the success of the Ostravian Salesian mission from the 1930s, which settled in Salesian oratory between two biggest Ostravian working class settlements of Hlubina a Šalomoun mines (approximately 5,000 inhabitants),10 and a role of socially empathic Roman Catholic priests in the collective memory of Ostravian working class.11

Between the two world wars, Ostravian Roman Catholic priests opposed not only the organized working class and its political (The Czechoslovak Social-Democratic Labour Party, The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia) and worldview organizations (physical training and atheist social-democratic and communist organizations), but also the growing influence of the Church of Czech Brethern and the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church, which grew from the postwar nationalist and pro-reformed ferment of Czecho(slovak) Roman Catholic clergy. During World War II, the majority of Ostravian priests managed to avoid any direct confrontation with the Nazi regime, but P. Štěpán Trochta (1905–74, 1969 cardinal “in pectore”), a cofounder of the Ostravian Salesian, work did not escape its attention.12 However, the open confrontation with the regime was about to break at the end of the 1940s, when the era of state socialism began.13

Whilst the Christians who spoke Czech had the support of Roman Catholic priests in Ostrava, the local Lutheran Protestants were put under the intensive pressure of German speakers. They disappeared from Moravian Ostrava in the first half of the eighteenth century, but they were supported to come back after the Patent of Tolerance (1781) and the emancipation after 1848. Because of the insatiable demand for manpower in the following decades, at the height of industrialization the Lutherans from Těšínsko and Prussian Silesia began to arrive. The religious situation of Ostravian Lutherans was complicated by the resistance of the Catholic clergy, which through the municipal council interfered in the religious duties of Evangelical Christians. The local Lutherans nevertheless used the protection of coreligionists among the clerks of Emperor Ferdinand Northern Railway, who extorted permission to perform religious services in workshops and railway depots and also the protection of some influential industrialists and German members of the municipal council headed by mayor Dr. Gustav Fiedler (1849–1936). The first step towards the public emancipation of Ostravian Lutherans was the foundation of their cemetery and chapel (1862). In 1871, the first Protestant vicar was named. The independent Protestant community with its own rectory, with a congregation that numbered 1,456 souls, was formed in Moravian Ostrava only in 1875. The construction of a rectory was begun in 1901, and on October 22, 1905 the cornerstone of Moravian-Ostravian Lutheran Church was laid (Christuskirche). It was opened with the strong support of Prussian Gustav Adolf Foundation in 1907.

While the Roman Catholic diocese was consistently bilingual with a predominantly Slavic element, the Lutheran community in Moravian Ostrava was completely dominated by Germans.14 Only at the end of World War I and with the establishment of the Protestant Church of Czech Brethern, which also had the support of the new Czechoslovak elite, headed by president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (1850–1937), there were significant linguistic and social-professional changes among Ostravian Protestants who called for a declaration of Hussite and Brethern Czech statehood. While the newly established national Church of Czech Protestant Brethern (constituted in December 1918) only addressed believers in Czech, the Protestant Church of Augsburg, which shared the Christ’s church together with Czech Brethern, brought together mainly German and Polish speaking Ostravian Protestants who got no support from the Nazi occupation administration. After 1948 they had to go into internal exile.

The Protestant Church of Augsburg became a home for German and Polish speaking Protestant Ostravians after 1918, but before World War I even Ostravian Jews who had converted to Christianity either for personal or professional reasons sought refuge there. Up to 1860, the town of Moravian Ostrava managed to protect its right to prohibit Jews from settling in the town, so in the 1850s Jews first settled in the neighboring Polish-Silesian settlement of Zámostí. In the following decade they were able to move to Moravian Ostrava itself. In 1860, a Jewish Iconic Association for Moravian and Polish Ostrava (Židovský kultovní spolek pro Moravskou a Polskou Ostravu), which belonged to Těšín Jewish community, had already formed, but the Ostravian Israelites did not form their own religious community until February 9, 1875. After the cholera epidemic in 1873 the number of Jewish immigrants on both banks of the Ostravice River temporarily fell, but the following migration waves in the 1880s and 1890s brought a great number of poor Galician Hasidic Jews. The newly established Jewish religious community for Moravian and Polish Ostrava and the surroundings (Židovská náboženská obec pro Moravskou a Polskou Ostravu a okolí, 1873) included, in addition to the neighboring villages, the towns of Frýdek-Místek and Bohumín. The original chapel in Zámostí was replaced by the Reform Synagoge in Pittler Street (1879), and even seven years earlier the local Jews had begun to bury their deceased in the cemetery in Říšská Street next to the Municipal central cemetery. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Moravian-Ostravian Jewish religious community boasted numerous groups, such as a women’s society, a choir, a crafts association, and scholarly and charitable foundations, as well as their own County House (1901) and organizationa physical education organization named Turnverein Bar Kochba (1899). The first rabbi of Moravian Ostrava was Samuel Friedmann (1875–90), who commuted to Ostrava from Těšín. His successors were Dr. Bernard Zimmels (1890–93), a native of Sankt-Pölten native, and Dr. Jakob Spira (1894–1942). The long-time chairman of the Jewish religious community was Markus Strassmann (1875–1903), an entrepreneur in brewing, who was followed by Dr. Alois Hilf (1903–34).15

After World War I, like the Czech or Czechoslovak Jewry in general, the Ostravian Jewry found itself at a crossroads, compelled to decide whether to acculturate in the conditions of a new Czechoslovak state in which Czech and Slovak were the prevailing languages or to remain among the more than three-million German speaking inhabitants of the newly formed state. Only a few of Ostravian Jews used the opportunity to register as Jewish in interwar censuses of in 1921 and 1930.16 Together with the threat of the approaching invasion of Nazi Germany into the territory of Czechoslovakia, the flow of Jews seeking the exile in Palestine, the USA or Shanghai grew.17 About 8,000 Ostravian Jews who remained in the territory of the Czech lands even after the foundation of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia died in the Nazi extermination camps, and only 200 Ostravian Jews came back to Ostrava in 1945. The restoration of the religious life of the Jewish community in Ostrava after 1948, however, was in the hands of the Jews from other Czechoslovak towns, since, apart from a few individuals, the Jews who had survived went abroad in 1945–1948.

Up to the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak state (October 28, 1918), the religious rituals of the followers of other faiths (Helvetic, Old Catholic and Orthodox) were limited in Ostrava and the surrounding industrial villages to isolated visits of the clergymen, occasional visits to the nearest rectory, or giving confession. (For example the Catholics of Byzantine-Slavic Rite had to attend Roman Catholic services before they gained their own parish, which was provided for them as of 1927 by the redemptorists in Saint Wenceslas Church in Moravian Ostrava). Together with the foundation of the new Czechoslovak state, the diocese of the confessions that were only rarely represented before 1918 in Moravian Ostrava or had been newly established (The Czech Brethern Church, Baptists etc.) came into being. Nevertheless between the two world wars Greater Ostrava and the surrounding villages became important centers of the the Czechoslovak Church, Social-Democratic and Communist atheistic movement and spiritualism.





















Without confession






































Roman Catholic













other/not stated


























Table 1. The Confessions of Moravian Ostrava Citizens in 1880–193018

Ostrava as a New Center of Interwar Spiritual Life

Immediately after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic (October 28, 1918), in its industrial center three new institutional actors entered interwar religious life. They were the Czechoslovak Church, the Association of Social Democratic Atheists and a spiritual organization called the Brotherhood. These new players in both regional and national religious histories had several common denominators. They included Czech nationalism, hostility to the Roman Catholic Church, enthusiasm for modern science, support of women‘s emancipation, identical ethical imperatives (the struggle against alcoholism and opposition to smoking), and open attentiveness towards new mass media (radio, slides). With a few exceptions, the activities of all three groups targeted only Czech-speaking inhabitants. However they were widely shared both by working class people and by state employees. The postwar liberalization of religious life helped them freely articulate their political rights and share cultural patterns.

The Czechoslovak Church

The important role of national and social fights in the spiritual and religious history of the Czech lands in the first third of the twentieth century can be illustrated by the adversities faced by the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church (Církev československá) (since 1971, the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, Církev československá husitská). It rose within the two years between 1918 and 1920 from the unfulfilled requirements of the reform-oriented, modern Union of the Catholic Clergy (Jednota katolického duchovenstva), from the conditions of national rise around the establishment of Czechoslovak Republic, and from the resistance of a significant part of the Czech by nation clergy and believers to the aristocratic Roman Catholic hierarchy of German and Hungarian nationalities. The radical wing of the Union, the Catholic clergy organization, which had never been officially accepted by the ecclesiastical hierarchy, held a Congress of the reform priests in Prague, which on January 8, 1920 declared the foundation of the new Czechoslovak Church, which was legalized by the state on September 15, 1920. While the Czechoslovak Church, under patriarch Karel Farský (1924–27), officially declared itself an heir to the Hussite tradition and aimed to return to the early church principles, in reality it introduced the Czech national language as a liturgical language and, even before the official establishment of the church, it abolished celibacy. As early as 1921, 5.23 percent of the Czechoslovak population joined the church, and apart from the so-called Orthodox crisis (1924), which led a part of the clergy and believers (mainly in Moravia) to support the Serbian Orthodox Church19 (srbská pravoslavná církev), the percentage of believers grew to 7.3 percent in 1930, and to 10.6 percent in 1950. In March 1939 the Czechoslovak Church was disbanded in Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia and it survived the Protectorate years as the Czecho-Moravian Church (Církev českomoravská). The Protectorate period, which was marred by the collaboration of the hierarchs, was followed after 1945 by a period of open cooperation with the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, even before the beginning of state socialism (1948).20

Immediately after the end of World War I, in the atmosphere of the Czech-Polish border controversy about Těšínsko and in the climate of postwar existential reflection on the events of the war, the industrial Ostravsko (Region of Ostrava), headed by (Polish) Silesian and Moravian Ostrava, with surrounding urban and rural villages became the center of the forming Czechoslovak Church. On January 15, 1920, a week after the church constituent congress, a religious community of the Czechoslovak Church formed in Radvanice in Silesia as the first one in the republic. Two years later, it became the seat of the Moravian-Silesian diocese, headed by the bishop Ferdinand Stibor (1869–1956), originally a Roman Catholic priest who in 1908 became the first vicar in the newly established parish in Radvanice, which had predominantly a working class population. The immediate confrontation with complicated social, political and national reality put him on the side of Czech inhabitants of working class origin, and he was thus in conflict with the German authorities and Roman Catholic hierarchy. The marriage with the parson’s cook in 1920 made the births of his two sons (one in 1910, the other in 1920) legal, and it became the first step towards his public affiliation declaration of the newly formed Czechoslovak Church, of which he was a signatory in January 1920. As of 1923, he served as a bishop, and in 1942–45—after the death of patriarch Gustav Adolf Procházka—even a land administrator.21 Stibor’s lifelong popularity—as demonstrated by the crowds that attended his funeral—was a sign of recognition among the people of his profound social empathy and the emphasis he placed on on Christian social practice in the difficult postwar times in a socially, politically and nationally heterogeneous region.

After Radvanice, Heřmanice, Michálkovice and Silesian Ostrava, in 1920–23 chapels of the the Czechoslovak Church were established in twelve parts of today’s Ostrava, where up to the year 1934 the same number of Hussite chapels were built. However, at least in Radvanice and Michálkovice the establishment of the chapels and the temporary occupation of the Roman Catholic churches were dramatic, involving the police, organs of state administration, and the courts:22

Just after the end of a political fight for Těšínsko and after the plebiscitary storms there appeared new nuisances, now the religious ones. [...] The vicar in Radvanice Ferdinand Stibor started to perform the speeches about the needs to establish the Czechoslovak Church in Michálkovice. [...] At the meeting of the local council in April 1920, the seizure of the Roman Catholic Church was negotiated because there was a majority of Czechoslovaks, and both Catholic and Czechoslovak worships were to be held. The Catholics could not give in without the church being taken from them by force. [...] After the negotiation with the representatives of both sides, the government bodies ordered that the church be handed up by a specific date. There was nothing else for the Czechoslovaks to do but to build their own church.23

The success of the Czechoslovak Church among the Ostravian working class can be shown with numbers: in 1921 the members of the Czechoslovak Church was constituted 10.2 percent of the population, and by 1930 this number had grown to 15.8, while in the whole republic it was 5.2 percent in 1921 and 7.3 percent in 1930.24 But one could also cite recollections of inhabitants from working class settlements:

In the class and in the settlement there were many Protestants and kids from the Czechoslovak Church, which was the largest, after the Catholic Church. Out of thirty kids in the class, there were ten who did not attend the religious education: three were atheists, two Protestants and the rest were from the Czechoslovak Church.25

Social-Democratic Atheistic Movement

Atheism became the most important opponent of the Christian religions in the territory of interwar Ostrava. Before World War I, it was promoted by Social Democracy and occasionally by Free Thought. In the interwar period atheism was propagated by the Association of Social Democratic Atheists and by the competitive Federation of Communist Cultural Units or by the Union of Proletarian Atheists. The first postwar census from February 16, 1921 indicated the significance of the tendency among inhabitants of Ostrava towards atheism. In the region of Moravian Ostrava, there were 81.5 people out of 1000 without faith (in Moravia this figure was 18.4 people and in the Czech Silesia it was only 14), which is unambiguously the highest rate in Moravia. The figure for Brno (land capital) was 40.8 and for Silesia (the region of Frýdek-venkov icluding Silesian Ostrava) it was 46.0.26 Nine years later, the rate of people without faith was 11.1 out of 100 inhabitants in the region of Moravian Ostrava, 7.5 in the region of Frýdek (including Silesian Ostrava), 6.6 in the political region of Brno, and 5.0 in the political region of Fryštát.27

Unambiguously the largest atheistic organizations in the region was the Union of Czech Atheists (Sdružení českých bezvěrců, 1919), the Union of Social Democratic Atheists (Sdružení sociálnědemokratických bezvěrců, 1919), and as of 1933 the Union of Socialist Free Thinkers (Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů), one of the most powerful non-political and non-physically educational organizations of interwar Ostravsko.28 The development of organized atheistic movement in Ostravsko, which benefitted from failure to translate Christian principles into social doctrine and from the anti-Catholic approach of the socially oriented working class majority, was allowed by the independent Czechoslovak state, and a postwar liberal social life was able to develop that followed the amended law about the right of association from November 15, 1867.29 The postwar development of the atheist organizations in Ostravsko was not so much determined by prewar activities of Free Thought. This was mainly because of civilization and value changes in society after World War I. The Czechoslovak state had its war experiences, anti-clerical propaganda of a socialistic press, and anti-Catholic ideology. As of 1924, the Ostravian Social-Democratic atheists were affiliated with the Atheists’ International and together with three other Czechoslovak atheist organizations (the Federation of Communist Cultural Units, Bund der proletarischen Freidenker, the Socialist Atheists in Most), they counted some 35,000 paying members by the mid-1920s.30

An initial step towards founding the first Czechoslovak atheist organization was the establishment of Volné slovo [Free Word], a periodical which, according to the subheading of its first edition (which came out in Přívoz on March 1, 1919), “defended and promoted the interests of Czech atheists” and used the slogan according to which “a Czech man cannot be a man of Rome.”31 In the first half of the 1920s, the Ostravian Social-Democratic atheists were agile in establishing of local organizations, in addition to leaving legally and officially the Church. They promoted the secularization of schools and funerals in the newly built (Feb. 1, 1925) crematorium in Ostrava.32 They mainly used common activities, such as slide lectures and theater performances, to fight the opponents among the communist atheists and the priests of the Czechoslovak Church, which was labelled “the old fiddle under a new firm.”33 Ostravian atheists demonstrated for freedom of conscience (1925) and secular education (1935). They also held ceremonies, such as the unveiling of a monument to the Spanish agnostic Francesco Ferrer (1935). However, the key period for the unification process of the Czechoslovak atheist movement was 1932, when the Union of Socialist Free Thinkers (Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů) was established. In the district of Moravian-Silesia 68 local branches were established in 1933.34 Before the clouds began to gather over the Ostravian atheist Union in 1938–39, they had problems with memberships waning (1925: 7,516 members, 1937: 3,500 members), out of which only a small fraction stayed in the successor to the organization, the Educational Union (Osvětový svaz, November 20, 1938).35 The last issue of Volné slovo was edited on October 1, 1939. The activities of The Educational Union were brought to an end in 1940 and two years after the Reinhard Heydrich assassination (June 4, 1942) it ceased to exit.


Lesser Ostravsko was not only the Moravian-Silesian center of the National-Catholic Czechoslovak Church and the midpoint of the Czechoslovak atheistic movement, in its history the spiritual movement played an important role with its Czechoslovak and Central European center in Radvanice in Silesia (today’s Ostrava-Radvanice), with the spiritual association Brotherhood (Bratrství) (1914), and with its Association house and periodicals entitled Spiritistická revue [Spiritual Revue] (1920–38), Československá revue psychická [The Czechoslovak Psychic Revue] (1938–40), and Psychická revue [The Psychic Revue] (1946–49). Radvanice and Silesian Ostrava36—where the roots of spiritualism dated back only to the last decade of the nineteenth century (the miners’ settlement of Zárubek) and the beginnings of an organized spiritual movement up to the time of the association of Brotherhood—formed (apart from the Protectorate period up to the liquidation of Brotherhood in the early 1950s) the midpoint of the Czechoslovak spiritual movement. In interwar period, the latter had almost 200,000 followers and supporters, agnostics as well as denominationally organized Christians.37

Whilst the spiritualists and the occult devotees are connected in the Czech lands consistently with the Czech Krkonoše and Jizerské mountains, the Ostravian spiritual tradition was essentially forgotten. Both Czech and Ostravian spiritualists read the spiritual literature of German origin, and this connected them, but the multi-cultural background of Ostravsko, with its Czech, German and Polish languages and international contacts in the interwar period (at least with the spiritualist circles in Vienna) separated them. Ostravsko bore witness to the birth of a specific spiritual culture and spirituality connecting the Czech tradition of Anti-Catholic individual religiosity with rational moral imperatives on the one hand with the Polish exalted rural religiosity on the other, which was also influenced by the major Jewish Hasidic community in the south of today’s Poland, which neighbors Ostravsko and is to the northeast of the Czech Republic.

In northern and northeastern Bohemia the central person of spiritualism was Karel Sezemský (1860–1936) and his periodical Posel záhrobní and Edice Spirit. In Ostravsko the same role went to Jan Rösner, an editor of the Spiritistická revue [Spiritual Revue] and a front person of the Brotherhood. Spiritistická revue was addressed to those interested in somnambulism, magnetism, levitation, occultism, metaphysics, predictive power, telepathy, suggestion, phrenology, hypnotism, graphology, astrology, abstinence, non-smoking, morals and psychology:

Spiritualism is not about faith, it asks for study and research. Spiritualism works for intellectual and emotional purification, it leads mankind towards brotherhood, and it lessens social differences [...]. Spiritualism does not agree with clergy or religious dogmas, however it teaches the religion of tolerance.38

These official spiritual documents were referring ecclesiastically to the Old and New Testament tradition, as well as to Ancient Egyptian and East-Asian religious traditions. While in the Czech spiritual regions, in addition to reading the spiritual texts, the mediumistic paintings played an important role, in the Association house in Radvanice theater performances were in the focus (one-act plays on spiritual topics), together with the contemporary classical music of the composers who were respected by spiritualists (Leoš Janáček).

While the members of the spiritual association of Brotherhood were organized in three hierarchical stages and only abstinent non-smokers and vegetarians could become proper members, the charismatic spiritualism and its practices (raising a spirit of deceased) met with an enthusiastic response among the Ostravian working class, mainly among working class women, who had never lived in the shadow of aggressive social agnostics.

Grandma prayed secretly, but only when grandpa was not at home. Once grandpa was not at home, I came home from school and I was passing two or three women in the hall. Grandma sent me away and did not explain to me who those women were. When I had come back from the aunt’s place or somewhere grandma was in tears, her eyes were really weepy. The women were apparently the spiritualists who would go around the settlement and who raised spirits of deceased. They were in the bedroom and had raised my mom, who had talked to my grandma. My mom apparently knew that I studied well and that she was in purgatory and that we were to pray for her to get into heaven.39

While in the interwar period the Ostravian spiritualists could rely on their own organized membership base and on numerous supporters in culturally and denominationally heterogeneous working class background, in the period of the Bohemian and Moravian Protectorate and later on after the disbanding of the Brotherhood in 1950 (in other words during the times of liquidation of the association life after February 1948), Ostravian spiritualism fell into isolation, persecution and in the end into oblivion. Spiritualism plays only a tiny role in collective memory, mainly with reference to the moment when the Association house of Brotherhood in Radvanice was expropriated after 1950.

Proselytism and Mixed Marriages as Modern Phenomena

Collective (institutional) actors in the religious life of Moravská Ostrava, both traditional and new ones, communicated with one another in public spaces via cultural and political entities and community life. In the city, the population of which was growing, schools and cemeteries proved especially neuralgic points of confessional coexistence. In the era of modernization and emerging civil society, individual actors became bearers of denominational mobility, the main manifestation of the conversions between different confessions. As the population grew, the number of conversions increased. Conversion ceased to be rare, and pragmatic reasons for the change of religion (usually a marriage) gave way to philosophical and political reasons. The study of denominational mobility is limited by methodological constraints, corresponding to the intimate nature of conscious confessional affiliation. The following section shows, within the limits set by the types of available sources, changes in the correlation of Roman Catholic denomination and other confessions. The most intimate area of research is the analysis of mixed marriages that were and still remain a conflicting point of inter-confessional dialogue.

Changes in confession

The primary source of this section of my inquiry is Kniha o změnách vyznání (1854–1920) [The Book of Conversions (1854–1920)], held in Ostrava City Archive,40 which reflects Moravian Ostrava in the period of the transformation from a serf town with traditional society to an industrial center of the Austrian state to an administrative, industrial and cultural metropolis of the infant Czechoslovak state. Kniha o změnách vyznání was formed as an official book into which the priests in the frame of the parish region recorded the reported changes of confession, in other words people who converted to the Catholic Church of Roman Rite and instances of people who left this Church. With 863 records, Kniha o změnách vyznání includes some columns that were meticulously filled in up to World War I, when the book recordings became schematic because of a change of conditions in the society and because of mass conversation from Roman Catholicism. After 1920, conversions to Catholicism and instances of people who left the Catholic Church had to be registered in different books.41

The first column contained data about the date of converting to or leaving the Roman Catholic faith, the certificate identification of the district office which had to be informed about the changes even after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and identification about ordination permission to enter the Catholic Church. The second column contained the information about the name, age, address and the birthplace of the registered person, as well as the names and marital status of his or her parents. The other column concerned the act of converting to or leaving the Church, and the original and new confessions are included. The penultimate column gives the name of the priest who led the catechization, and accepted the confession with a witness (frequently it was only a sacristan) or baptized the convert, in the company of the godfathers. The last column contained reasons for the change in confession (this column was often filled in schematically or even contained conflicting information).

Kniha o změnách vyznání begins in the year 1854 with the data about three converting female Protestants of the Augsburg Confession (in the source there is no information about the conversion of a Protestant of Helvite Confession) who converted to Catholicism in order to be able to marry a Catholic. Up until 1920, 97 Lutheran males and 159 Lutheran females converted and became members of the Roman Catholic Church. The wave of Lutheran conversions to Catholicism culminated in 1897–99, 1901, and 1905. From 1906 on, a permanent decrease of conversions among Protestants can be seen, because they could already support an agile clergy administration with a new church. The main reason for Lutherans’ conversion to Catholicism was marriage, mainly the marriage of Lutheran girls from nearby villages who married local Catholics and worked in Moravian Ostrava as workers, day laborers, charwomen and laundresses. Among men, miners were the largest group (17.5 percent of all converting Lutherans), then workers, metallurgical workers and day laborers. While among the converting Lutherans there was not a single convert with a so-called liberal profession, among the Catholics converting to Lutherans this situation was quite the reverse.

The most numerous group was formed by Roman Catholic believers who converted to the Augsburg confession. There are only twenty entries up to 1898, but from 1899, when more people left the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava than entered it, there were several such people every year. The wave of conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism culminated in the years 1901, 1909 and 1919. While among the Protestants, women dominated, in the reverse direction men outnumbered women (in a proportion of 144:126). If among the female Catholics who converted to the Augsburg confession there were mainly housekeepers, charwomen, cooks and single girls as future brides, among new male followers of the Augsburg confession there were, in addition to workers, also members of liberal professions (an editor, sons of the pharmacist and the mayor, etc.). The reason for their conversions could have been “frenzied German nationalism,” the movement “Los vom Rom,” “Romhetze” or “furor teutonicus.” The local Lutheran community thus grew not only by its own reproduction but also by a linguistically, nationally and culturally German oriented movement which was supported by women from the local notables. For example, in 1903 the factory owner Karel Elbertzhagen’s granddaughter Alice Elisabeth Koberová, converted. Her mother Božena Elbertzhagenová, who was the wife of an entrepreneur who belonged to a Protestant confession, converted in 1910, and Ida Fiedlerová converted in 1904 (she was the daughter of a Moravian-Ostravian sugar refinery owner and the wife of advocate and burgomaster Dr. Gustav Fiedler, who was mayor in 1901–18). The reason for her conversion was recorded as “indifferentism and modern movement.”

The third largest group was formed by people who left the Catholic Church and did not join another confession: there were 299 such cases in the period that began in 1854 and ended in 1920. The first “renegade” was Konrád Kubala, who at first left the Catholic Church in 1882 but five years later, presumably because of a marriage, entered its ranks again. In the Knize změn vyznání the Catholic Church withdrawals and subsequent agnosticism can be found only from 1900. Men outnumbered women among those who left the Catholic Church and did not join another confession (170:59), and the number of withdrawals rose rapidly after the foundation of the newly independent state—up to 1918 inclusive there were 117 believers who left the Catholic Church and did not join another denomination, and in the last two years (1918–20) it was just 112 believers. Before the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic the withdrawals culminated in 1909 and 1913–14. Allegedly, the main reason were “agitation against Rome” (around 1900), “spiritualism” (1905, 1907) and only then such influences as “socialist thought, social movements, democratic socialism and frenzied socialism.” In 1911 Dr. Mořic Kohn, advocate, left the Roman Catholic Church. His example may suggest the fragility of the attachment of a Jewish proselyte to the new religion. Eight years later, a town mayor Jan Prokeš (mayor in 1925–35) did the same thing. The reasons for withdrawals might have been just personal ones, for example a bad experience with pastoral duties or with an individual priest. So in 1908, a twenty-year-old student left the Catholic Church and the priest recorded the reason simply as the “student’s stupidity and vindictiveness.”

Kniha o změnách vyznání also provides data about sporadic conversions between the Catholic Church and other confessions than the Augsburg confession. In 1882, the twenty-four-year old native from Moravian-Ostrava who dwelt in Galician Czernowice converted because of a marriage to Catholicism of the Eastern Rite—the conversion had only an administrative character, not a dogmatic one. The conversion of a single girl in 1918, who converted to Judaism, is also rare. The Jewish wedding was a presumable reason for a nineteen-year-old girl’s conversion, though together with the other seven girls—during the period under investigation—she did not specify the confession she was adopting. The conversions of three men Catholicism (1905–06, 1919) for which the priests recorded “Romhetze” and “the renegade’s agitation work” as the reasons for the conversions were also rarities. World War I, which turned Moravian Ostrava into a military town, might have attracted four men of Orthodox confession from the Eastern parts of the monarchy to have found their partners there and then to have accepted their Catholic confession.

The specific group is formed by about twenty people who as agnostics entered the Catholic Church in 1887–1919. There are people among them who stated the traditional reason (marriage) for entering the Catholic Church, but there was also a primary school teacher (25 years old) and a municipal clerk (27 years old) for whom the reason for entering the Catholic Church could have been evoked by the pressure from their employer. In 1903, a non-practicing Jew named Gisela Munková, the daughter of Viennese innkeeper Josef Krippl, converted to Catholicism, and after a civil wedding in 1894 so did the wife of Moravian-Ostravian notary Dr. Richard Munk. In 1854–1920, 862 people entered or left the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava. Before 1918, this happened primarily mainly due to a marriage with a member of the Lutheran Confession. In 1899, for the first time more people left the Roman Catholic Church than entered it. While transfers between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches had the character of social advancement, Jewish conversions were, up to the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, a manifestation of the decision assimilate completely with the majority society.

Jewish proselytism

The last two cases have brought me to the specific group of people of Jewish confession whose decision to convert to Catholicism, even after the emancipation of the Jew of the Monarchy (1867), was one further step towards their full assimilation with the majority Christian (Catholic) society. The oldest recordings42 about two female Jews’ decisions to convert to Catholicism in the presence of Roman Catholic Church priests from Moravian Ostrava are from 1870 and 1873. The other sporadic recordings appear in the 1880s, however from 1890 several people converted annually, with the exceptions of the years 1893, 1900, 1905, 1908–10 and 1919. Almost one-third of the entries about Jews who converted to Catholicism come from the last decade of my research (1911–20). The largest number of people converted in 1906, 1915 and 1920. The vast majority of Jewish proselytes in the period in question were females (43 women compared to only 15 men) who converted to Catholicism almost exclusively for the sake of marriage (seventeen of them explicitly stated that they were single, only three were married). The average age (24.8 years) corresponds with this. Professionally, most of them were cooks, charwomen, rentiers, or around the years of World War I also clerks.

While marriage remained the main reason for conversions among female converts in the period, the men’s situation was not so clear. In addition to two people for whom profession is not specified, there were eight manual laborers, a locksmith, a fitter or a stable-boy and two sales agents among the male converts, as well as three members of liberal professions—a doctor at the municipal hospital, a physical education teacher at a secondary school and a manager of the municipal power station. For these men, conversion could have been a precondition for social advancement. The fact is that the priests in principle did not mention the reason for conversions men, unlike in the case of female converts. The possible success of conversions and the fact that the majority society accepted proselytes is proven by the fact that in the Knize o změnách vyznání I have found three (maybe four) cases in which both sisters converted: thus marriage was a common fate for sisters Marie Josefa and Antonie Tereza Perlová (1870, 1882), Vanda and Terezie Geradová (1911, 1913), and three sisters Marta, Kamila and Flora Wulkanová (1917, 1918, 1918) and maybe also sisters Olga and Hermína Bergová (1911, 1913).

After the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak state and after the liberalization of Czechoslovak society, conversion to Catholicism lost its power for Jews, and they basically disappeared from Ostravian religious life in the second half of 1920s and first half of the 1930s.43 They appeared again only in the second half of 1930s, as Nazi ideology was gaining ground to the west and the threat of German occupation of the Czechoslovak Republic was ever more imminent.

Mixed marriages

Marriage was the most frequent reason for religious conversion in 1854–1920, but after 1900 national and political reasons came to play increasingly important roles. In spite of the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth-century inter-confessional marriages attracted attention and were causes of many family conflicts, marriages that were confessional mixed do not belong to the frequent topics of the Czech historiography or historic demography.44 While proselytism and changes of religion were widely accepted after the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic in the times of political and social liberalization, at the beginning of the twentieth century changes in religion and inter-confessional marriages were a phenomenon peculiar almost exclusively to the middle or upper classes. For example, one can consult a statistical survey of 376 Christian household owners with 2,174 citizens (7.2 percent of all present inhabitants) of the town center of Moravian Ostrava who lived in 1900 on the territory of two main Moravian-Ostravian squares—the Main Square (Marktplatz) and Rynek (Franz-Joseph-Platz)—and ten adjacent streets in the town center.45 While the lesser central Rynek was mainly inhabited by Jewish merchants, craftsmen and members of liberal professions, the Main Square and newly built Johanny Avenue was home to the majority of Moravian-Ostravian atheists, who still were quite rare.46 Four out of sixteen atheists of Moravian Ostrava lived in this part of the town, forming 0.05 percent of the population of Moravian Ostrava in 1900. Out of 248 married couples at the end of 1900, there were thirteen inter-confessional couples (5 percent), eleven of which were Protestant-Catholic, one of which was Jewish-Protestant, and one of which was Jewish-Catholic. The majority was formed by a Catholic man and a Lutheran woman from near Těšínsko or from Lutheran regions of Moravia, Galicia and Rhineland. Usually they had gotten married only after having come to Moravian Ostrava. Thus inter-confessional marriages had strong ties with a new dwelling in a dynamically changing industrial center that was affected by the largest immigration wave in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The town was flooded by single young men, and with the growing wave in marriages the rate of inter-confessional marriages also rose, and that happened despite the existing social and administrative barriers. Without meticulous study of the records of the church registry office, it is not possible to prove precisely if the marriages were of a socially exogenous character or not, but they seem to be registered within the frame of identical social groups. Even today, Christian Churches pay attention to the religious education of the children of an inter-confessional married couple, and this issue is still a key point of Christian ecumenicalism. In Moravian Ostrava at the end of the nineteenth century it was the fathers who made decisions about the child’s religion, as evidenced by the fact that there was only one case in which the children were recorded as belonging to either the father’s or the mother’s confession, depending on the gender of the child in question.47

The example of the family of Dr. Gustav Fiedler, one of the wealthiest inter-confessional families in the community, is worth citing. He was a Protestant, the mayor of Moravian Ostrava (1901–18), and a local politician. In 1919, he served as a member of a delegation demanding, on the basis of the example of Gdansk, that Ostrava be withdrawn from the Czechoslovak state and be a multinational region subordinated to the League of Nations. Fiedler as a Protestant—with his wife Ida as a Catholic (born Goldová, she was a native Jew) and their only son as a Protestant—dwelt in the luxurious newly constructed residential house at no. 1083 of Johanny Avenue. He was a leader in the Lutheran community, and he represented Ostravian German nationalists. Also in his case the connection between Lutheranism and aggressive German nationalism was significant.48

In the case of a couple both members of which had a working class background, a difference in confessional belonging was more a cultural barrier than a social one. The progressive prevalence of inter-confessional marriages among members of the lower classes can be demonstrated with reference to the following examples from the working class environment. In 1890, in the largest Moravian-Ostravian workers’ settlement of the Šalomoun mine, there were 1,632 inhabitants and 218 married couples, out of which only four were inter-confessional (all four were Protestant-Catholic). Children were recorded in accordance with their fathers’ or their mothers’ confessions, depending on gender. In 1910, when 2,094 inhabitants and 330 married couples lived in Šalomouna, only one marriage was mixed (Protestant-Catholic). Twenty years later, this community, the largest Moravian-Ostravian workers’ settlement, was inhabited by 2,078 people and 336 married couples, out of which twenty were mixed (6 percent). Half of the mixed marriages were formed by a couple consisting of an atheist man and a Catholic woman when a child’s future confession was a decision shared equally by parents. Three couples were between members of the Czech Brethern Church and atheists. Two couples were relationships between male atheists and female members of the Czechoslovak Church, and another five couples were marriages between members of the Roman or Greek Catholic Church on the one hand and members of Protestant, Czech Brethern or Czechoslovak Churches on the other. While the growing number of inter-confessional marriages proves the modernization and liberalization of the working class and the liberalization of matrimonial law, the available data does not prove that the children’s membership to either their mothers’ or their fathers’ confessions was strictly ruled or dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.49


In 1890–1950, the villages in the center of today’s Ostrava underwent great economic, social, demographic and cultural changes. The town completely changed its urban profile, and habits and attitudes in the at times confrontational environment of an industrial town and region also changed.50 The tendency to base identity on denominational belonging was gradually waning as other factors gained prominence in the social life of a nationally, linguistically, and religiously diverse industrial town undergoing relatively rapid change. Moreover, given the absence of traditional rural society and the pressures of atheist attitudes and increasingly prevalent anti-Catholicism (which was also linked to Czech nationalism), confessional belonging came to be seen increasingly as a private matter, making conversion less socially problematic and at the same time also less of a precondition of acceptance or social advancement (for intance for Jews). Catholicism stopped being the dominant confession, and in 1900 the town was affected by waves of conversions to Lutheran Protestantism under the influence of German national propaganda (Kulturkampf). Already before the war, people had begun leaving the Church under the influence of agnosticism, and the declared reasons for change of confession shifted from purely pragmatic (marriage, work) to ideological (socialism, German nationalism, free thinking, atheism). World War I, the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and foundation of the Czech Brethern Church and the Czechoslovak Church are usually considered breaking points in the religious life of Czech citizens. In Ostrava, however, 1899 can be regarded as a breaking point. More people left the Roman Catholic Church in Moravian Ostrava in 1899 than entered it.

The geopolitical position of Ostrava on the border of the historical lands of Moravia and Silesia, on the borders of state formations (in 1742–1920 and 1938–45 Ostrava was a border town), and on the borders of linguistic and ethnological regions (Lutheran Těšínsko, the Catholic northeast of Moravia, the closeness of Protestant centers in German Silesia, the economic pull of Ostrava for Jewish immigrants from Galicia, Moravia and Hungary) predestined the town to play the role of a social, national and cultural melting pot and a pioneer in the modernization of religious life, giving its religious heterogeneity. The anonymous environment of industrial Ostrava severed immigrants from their traditional and family relationships and confronted their religious and ideological orientation with the socially, culturally and nationally precarious conditions of modern industrial society. The most visible signs of these processes can be seen in marriages that were mixed by confession (though they were socially more endogenous than exogenous in the period) and the growing influence of atheism. Before World War I, conversion to Catholicism played a particularly important role for Jewish immigrants because it meant a step towards full assimilation. However, this strategy lost its meaning after the foundation of the new state. Before the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic, inter-confessional marriages in Moravian Ostrava were peculiar to the middle and upper classes. In the working class milieu, they were more frequent only after the liberalization of religious life after 1918. In the pre-war middle class environment, fathers decided about the confessional belonging of children. In the working class environment, children were usually equally recorded according to the denominational affiliation of their parents, on the basis of gender.

Precarious social and national conditions, sharply socially stratified local society, and the explosive postwar development of Ostrava, which became an important administrative and cultural center of the region and which played down the importance of the traditional centers of Opava and Těšín, all made Ostrava a center of religious and spiritual life, at least in the sphere of atheism, spiritualism and the mass operation of the Czechoslovak Church. All three spheres were connected by resistance to traditional Catholicism and the support of the infant modern Czechoslovak state, with its Hussite and Hus ideology.51 Whilst during the First Republic, atheists, spiritualists and the Czechoslovak Church believers competed against one another, during World War II they had to face together the decline or even illegality of their systems of faith, as they lost their Czechoslovak identity and were under the tightening control of Protectorate and Nazi authorities. After World War II, under state socialism they had to go the ways of ideological canonization (agnosticism), instrumentalization in the service of communist propaganda (the Czechoslovak Church), or a proscription, which led to elimination from collective memory (spiritualism).


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1* This study was written within the scope of grant project no. 13-28086C “Historical process of modernization (on the basis of the example of Austrian Silesia)” of the Czech Science Foundation.

Karel Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy (Ostrava: Archiv města Ostravy, 1993), 7–10; Blažena Przybylová et al., Ostrava: historie/kultura/lidé (Prague: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny, 2013), 7–8.

2 Milan Myška, “K vymezení ostravské průmyslové oblasti,” Český lid 53 (1966): 121–33; Olga Skalníková, “Problém Ostravska jako průmyslové oblasti (příspěvek ke studiu vytváření novodobé etnografické oblasti),” Český lid 60 (1973): 358–65. The Ostrava industrial area developed without regard to state, administrative, ethnic or ethnographic borders as an industrial region with an extreme concentration of industrial plants and workers’ colonies, and without a connection to an older industrial tradition. The core of the Ostrava industrial area became the communities of Moravian and Polish (Silesian) Ostrava, Vítkovice, Petřvald and Karviná, and within the industrial area two settlement agglomerations emerged, Moravian (Greater) Ostrava and Fryštát (Karviná).

3 Martin Jemelka, “K náboženskému životu v Moravské Ostravě (1854–1920),” Acta Facultatis Philosophicae Universitas Ostraviensis, Historica 15 (2008): 41–63; Martin Jemelka, “Proselytismus jako modernizační fenomén (na příkladu Moravské Ostravy v letech 1850–1920),” in Město a městská společnost v procesu modernizace 1740–1918, ed. Pavel Kladiwa, and Aleš Zářický (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 2009), 168–78, 376–77, 393; Martin Jemelka, “Sociálnědemokratické bezvěrecké hnutí na meziválečném Ostravsku,” Ostrava: sborník k dějinám Ostravy a Ostravska, 26 (2012): 135–65; Martin Jemelka, “The Social Democratic Atheist Movement in Interwar Ostravsko,” in Secularization and the Working Class: The Czech Lands and Central Europe in the 19th Century, ed. Lukáš Fasora, Jiří Hanuš, and Jiří Malíř (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, Pickwick Publications, 2011), 174–92; Martin Jemelka, “Židovský proselytismus jako modernizační fenomén (na příkladu Moravské Ostravy v letech 1854–1920),” in Židé a Morava XVI.: sborník z konference konané v Muzeu Kroměřížska 11. listopadu 2009, ed. Petr Pálka (Kroměříž: Muzeum Kroměřížska, 2010), 75–88.

4 Antonín Barcuch, “Počátky církve československé (husitské) v Radvanicích,” Těšínsko 48, no. 3 (2005): 20–23.

5 Martin Pilař, “Blouznivci a spiritisté v Ostravě,” in Bílá kniha: 17 příběhů z ostravské kulturní historie, ed. Ivo Kaleta et al. (Ostrava: Statutární města Ostrava, 2009), 169–70.

6 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 670–71.

7 Libuše Cimalová and Karel Jiřík, Farní úřady římsko-katolické církve na území města Ostravy: sdružený inventář (1609–1950) (Ostrava: Archiv města Ostravy, 1963), 10; Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 526, 536, 562, 614.

8 More Lukáš Vaculík, Dějiny římskokatolického děkanství v Moravské Ostravě (1948–1989) (Ostrava: Katedra historie Filozofické fakulty Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, rukopis diplomové práce, vedoucí diplomové práce PhDr. Martin Jemelka, Ph.D., 2011), 104–10. We come across members of the Catholic clergy with proletarian origins only after World War II, when state socialism, at least in the 1950s, was supported by many priests of working class origin.

9 Petr Přebinda, “Působení kněze a pozdějšího slavného orientalisty Aloise Musila v Moravské Ostravě (1891–1895),” Ostrava: příspěvky k dějinám a současnosti Ostravy a Ostravska 26 (2012): 190–230. For example a legendary Biblicist, orientalist and traveler Alois Musil (1868–1944), who worked as a curator in Moravian Ostrava in 1891–95.

10 Martin Jemelka, Na Šalomouně: společnost a každodenní život v největší moravskoostravské hornické kolonii (1870–1950) (Ostrava: Filozofická fakulta Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, 2008), 128–33.

11 “After Karas the other vicar from Heřmanice came to the Roman rectory, Václav Petr. He was the son of a peasant. When he came to us, he was a young, handsome man. He was frank, open-minded, he loved children, he was a priest, a democrat. He spoke openly with everyone, whether you were a member of the other church or not in a church at all. He came here in about 1935 and he was liked by everyone.” Ludmila Turecká, “Kronika,” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 124.

12 Jemelka, Na Šalomouně, 132.

13 More Vojtěch Vlček, Perzekuce mužských řádů a kongregací komunistickým režimem 1948–1964 (Olomouc: Matice cyrilometodějská, 2004).

14 Die ewangelische Gemeinde in Mährisch Ostrau (Mährisch Ostrau: n.p., 1905; Miroslav Kroček, “Z místopisu staré Moravské Ostravy,” Ostrava: sborník příspěvků k dějinám a výstavbě města 14 (1987): 238, 246.

15 Jiří Fiedler, Židovské památky v Čechách a na Moravě (Prague: Sefer, 1992): 117–18; Jaroslav Klenovský, Židovské památky Ostravy (Brno–Ostrava: Moravskoslezské nakladatelství, 1997–1998), 4–12.

16 The interwar Greater Ostrava was more than the center of conservative Jewry or an important destination for the Czechoslovak reform-oriented Jews. It was the center for secularized Czechoslovaks of Jewish origin for whom Greater Ostrava, with its agile Zionist organizations, was a training ground and a transfer station on the way to Palestine, as it was described by Ivan Olbracht in his works (a novella O smutných očích Hany Karadžičové of the trilogy Golet v údolí from the year 1937).

17 Mečislav Borák, Transport do tmy: první deportace evropských Židů (Ostrava: Moravskoslezský den, 1994), 31–52, 67–116.

18 Sources of Table 1: Special-Orts-Repertorium von Mähren. Band X., Mähren (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Central-Commission, 1885), 90; Special-Orts-Repertorium von Mähren. Neubearbeitung auf Grund der Ergebnisse der Volkszählung vom 31. Dezember 1890 (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Zentral Kommission, 1893), 117; Gemeindelexikon von Mähren. Bearbeitet auf Grund der Ergebnisse der Volkszählung vom 31. Dezember 1900 (Vienna: K. K. Statistischen Zentral Kommission, 1906), 120; Statistický lexikon obcí na Moravě a ve Slezsku. Úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920, čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař (Prague: Vydán Ministerstvem vnitra a Státním úřadem statistickým na základě výsledků sčítání lidu z 15. února, 1921, 1924), 97; Statistický lexikon obcí v zemi Moravskoslezské. Úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920, čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař (Prague: Vydán Ministerstvem vnitra a Státním úřadem statistickým na základě výsledků sčítání lidu ze dne 1. prosince, 1930, 1935), 92.

19 Pavel Marek and Volodymyr Bureha, Pravoslavní v Československu v letech 1918–1942 (Brno: Centrum pro studium demokracie a kultury, 2008); Jaroslav Šuvarský, Biskup Gorazd (Prague: Metropolitná rada Pravoslávnej cirkvi v ČSSR, 1979). Moravian native Matěj Pavlík (1879–1942) was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1902. After serving in some Moravian parishes (during World War I among others as a padre in the military and mental hospital in Kroměříž), he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church in 1920 for holding the Catholic liturgy in Czech. In the nascent Czechoslovak Church, he promoted an Orthodox orientation, and after he had separated from its members he was ordained a bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church. As bishop Gorazd of Prague, he established fourteen Orthodox churches in the Czech lands and became the main representative of Czech interwar Orthodoxy. He was shot to death in September 1942 in the Prague Orthodox Cathedral for sheltering the deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich’s assassins. He was canonized as a martyr by the Ortodox Church in 1987.

20 Radoslav Daněk, “Tagliaferro Jan,” in Biografický slovník Slezska a severní Moravy, 10, ed. Lumír Dokoupil, and Milan Myška (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 1998), 146–48; Pavel Marek, Církevní krize na počátku první Československé republiky (1918–1924) (Brno: L. Marek, 2005), 212–13.

21 Jaroslav Pleskot, “Stibor Ferdinand,” in Biografický slovník Slezska a severní Moravy, 9, ed. Lumír Dokoupil and Milan Myška (Ostrava: Ostravská univerzita v Ostravě, 1997), 100.

22 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 498, 519, 526, 531, 547, 568, 593, 599.

23 Turecká, “Kronika,” 121. Ludmila Turecká (1907–2005) described the situation in Michálkovice (today Ostrava-Michálkovice). She grew up in a Czecho-Polish Galician miner family in a miners’ settlement.

24 Jemelka, “Sociálnědemokratické,” 163–64.

25 Milík Gaj, “Všecko mělo smysl a jedno zapadalo do druhého,” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 271.

26 Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice Československé: úřední seznam míst podle zákona ze dne 14. dubna 1920 čís. 266 Sb. zák. a nař., II – Morava a Slezsko (Prague: Nakladatelství Státního úřadu statistického, 1924), tabulka IIA, XIX–XXII.

27 Statistický lexikon obcí v Republice Československé, Místní obce, osady a jejich části v Zemi moravskoslezské (Prague: Nakladatelství Státního úřadu statistického, 1934), XX–XXII.

28 Jemelka, “The Social Democratic.”

29 Jemelka, “K náboženskému životu,” 41.

30 AMO OMA, Volné slovo, 7, 11. 9. 1925, č. 34, s. 1: Mohutná protiklerikální manifestace v M. Ostravě.

31 Ibid., 1, 1. 3. 1919, č. 1, s. 1. [Enhancement – M. J.]

32 Ibid., 7, 1925, č. 3, s. 6 a č. 4, s. 3–4.

33 Ibid., 1, 1. 10. 1919, č. 15, s. 3.

34 AMO OMA, Fond Spolky na území města Ostravy, Župní výbor Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů, Stanovy Unie socialistických svobodných myslitelů (přírůstkové č. 216, karton č. 1, evidenční číslo 1).

35 AMO OMA, Volné slovo, 20, 1. 12. 1938, č. 12, s. 1.

36 In fiction, see for example Ota Filip, Nanebevstoupení Lojzka Lapáčka ze Slezské Ostravy (Prague: Československý spisovatel, 1994).

37 Jiřík et al., Dějiny Ostravy, 568; Pilař, “Blouznivci,” 169–70.

38 Pilař, “Blouznivci,” 169–70.

39 Jaroslava Houžvová, “V naší havířské rodině v životě nepadlo sprosté slovo” in Lidé z kolonií vyprávějí své dějiny, ed. Martin Jemelka (Ostrava: Repronis, 2009), 239.

40 AMO, Fond Římsko-katolický farní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Kniha o změnách vyznání (1854–1920), inv. č. 73.

41 AMO, Fond Římsko-katolický farní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Kniha vystouplých z církve (1920–1922), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1923–1930), Kniha vystouplých z církve (1931–1952), Kniha přijatých do církve (1922–1938), Kniha přijatých do církve (1939–1947), inv. č. 74–78.

42 Blažena Przybylová, “Projednávání přestupu židovky Rachel Tausk na katolickou víru magistrátem Moravské Ostravy v roce 1831,” Ostrava: příspěvky k dějinám a současnosti Ostravy a Ostravska 26 (2012): 328–35.

43 Jemelka, “Židovský proselytismus,” 187–213.

44 About the retrospective and contemporary context of the problem, see for example: Walter Schöpsdau, Konfessionsverschiedene Ehe: Ein Handbuch. Kommentar und Dokumente zu Seelsorge, Theologie und Recht der Kirchen (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1995); Beate Bayer, Konfessionsverbindende Ehe: Impulse für Paare und Seelsorger (Mainz: Matthias Grünewald, 1991); Uwe Begerhause, Die konfessionsverbindende Ehe als Lehr- und Lernprozess (Mainz: Matthias Grünewald, 2001).

45 Martin Jemelka, Křesťanské domácnosti centra Moravské Ostravy roku 1900: ke srovnání jejich biologických, kulturních a socioprofesních charakteristik se zvláštním zřetelem k ženské populaci (Ostrava: Katedra historie Filozofické fakulty Ostravské univerzity v Ostravě, rukopis diplomové práce, 2002), 1, 10.

46 Ibid., 17.

47 Ibid., 64–67.

48 Ibid., 70–71.

49 AMO OMA, Fond Okresní úřad Moravská Ostrava, Sčítání obyvatelstva 31. 12. 1910, Moravská Ostrava (karton č. 88, 91, 92, 95, 97, 103–05); Národní archiv Praha, Fond Státní úřad statistický I – sčítání obyvatelstva v roce 1930, Moravská Ostrava (karton č. 9016 – sčítací obvody č. 62, 63; karton č. 9018 – sčítací obvod 66); Státní okresní archiv Frýdek-Místek, Fond Okresní úřad Místek, Sčítání obyvatel 31. 12. 1890, Moravská Ostrava (inv. č. 1039, mikrofilmy č. 1, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13); Jemelka, Na Šalomouně, 88–89.

50 Martin Jemelka, “The Ostrava Industrial Agglomeration in the First Half of the Twentieth Century: Where the Urban Countryside met the Rural Town,” in Mastery and Lost Illusions: Space and Time in the Modernization of Eastern and Central Europe, ed. Włodzimierz Borodziej, Stanislav Holubec, and Joachim von Puttkamer (Europas Osten im 20. Jahrhundert 5) (Munich: De Gruyter Oldenbourg, 2014), 71–98.

51 Andrea Hudáková, “Spiritistický pohřeb: sonda do praxe slezských spiritistů,” Dingir 3 (2011): 92–93.

pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Zsófia Kádár

The Difficulties of Conversion Non-Catholic Students in Jesuit Colleges in Western Hungary in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century

The societies of the multiethnic and multilingual region of Central Europe became more diverse through the emergence of distinct confessions (Konfessionalisierung). The first half of the seventeenth century is especially interesting in this regard. In this period, the Catholic Church started to win back its positions in the Hungarian Kingdom as well, but the institutionalization of the Protestant denominations had by that time essentially reached completion. The schools, which were sustained by the various denominations, became the most efficient devices of religious education, persuasion and conversion. In this essay I present, through the example of the Jesuit colleges of western Hungary, the denominational proportions and movements of the students in the largely non-Catholic urban settings. Examining two basic types of sources, the annual accounts (Litterae Annuae) of the Society of Jesus and the registries of the Jesuit colleges in Győr and Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), I compare and contrast the data and venture an answer to questions regarding the kinds of opportunities non-Catholic students had in the Jesuit colleges. In contrast with the assertions made in earlier historiography, I conclude that conversion was not so widespread in the case of the non-Catholic students of the Jesuits. They were not discriminated against in their education, and some of them remained true to their confessions to the end of their studies in the colleges.

Keywords: conversion, Jesuit colleges, school registries, annual accounts (Litterae Annuae), denominations in towns, urban history, Hungary, Győr, Pozsony, Pressburg, Bratislava, Sopron

A student, the son of a soldier or a burgher, took leave of Calvinism, an act with which he completely infuriated his parents, so much so that his father planned to kill him. What did this young man do then? He unhesitatingly went down on his knees and cleared his neck for the lethal strike. ‘Do it, father’ he said, ‘do as you wish. I do not want to live as a bad Christian.’ The father was softened at the sight of this heroic cry. Moved, he kissed his son and burst into tears, and shortly, he followed his son’s example.1

The annual account (Litterae Annuae) of the Győr Jesuit College from the year 1639 describes a typical example of conversion in the case of an unusually dauntless student.2 Based on the college’s registries of students (matriculae) from the seventeenth century, he may well have been Ferenc Teyfalvai, a student who is mentioned in 1638 as a Calvinist but in 1640 as a Roman Catholic.3 By examining the two above mentioned basic types of sources, the annual accounts and the registries of the Jesuit colleges in Győr and Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia), and comparing and contrasting their data, I have sought an answer to the question concerning the opportunities non-Catholic students had in the Jesuit colleges in Western Hungary. Was conversion really as “self-evident” as has been assumed, primarily on the basis of the narrative sources?

In the worldwide process of “Catholic renewal,” the Habsburg Monarchy and the Hungarian Kingdom, as part of the “militant Church,” were in a distinctive position because of the variety of nations and denominations. Moreover, the religious situation of Hungary in the Habsburg state-conglomerate was unique.4 In the Kingdom of Hungary, the first two-thirds of the seventeenth century were not yet an era of forceful Counter-Reformation, but rather one of the “missionary seigniorial Counter-Reformation.”5 There was no state intervention in religious life, nothing comparable to the activity of the Klosterrat in the Austrian hereditary provinces at the end of the sixteenth century, for instance. Furthermore, after the Bocskai uprising (1604–06), the Habsburg dynasty was forced to reach a compromise with the Hungarian Estates.6 In spite of the Thirty Years’ War and the reorganization of power, the Protestant population, which constituted the significant majority at the beginning of the century, only started to lose numerical superiority gradually, and did not reach a critical period, the so-called Protestant “Decade of sorrow” (1671–81), until the reign of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary.

Scholarship on conversion in Hungary, which is based on a more limited range of sources than similar scholarship in Western Europe, can also be furthered through case studies and intensive analysis. In addition to providing data, such as the numbers of conversions, information regarding the converts (such as their social status and relationships), and the institutional background of conversions (religious orders, papal institutions, educational institutions, missions, etc.), recent research has focused on the personal motivations, distinguishing between “real” and “unreal, extrinsic” conversions and shedding light on the preparation for, processes involved in, and consequences of conversion, and devising a new typology of the act.

Lieke Stelling and Todd M. Richardson examine a particular aspect of the theme by focusing on the individual and the “turn of the soul.” The volume of essays edited by them concentrates on three subjects: agency, authenticity and imitation. It presents the complexity of cases of conversion by drawing on literary compositions and works of the visual arts.7 Although I do not have many sources on which I could base conjectures regarding personal motivations, as I hope to make evident, the example of Zsigmond Holló can be interpreted as a kind of connecting point between the theme of conversion and works of literature because of the school dramas written about his case. Ricarda Matheus examined the process of conversions on the basis of the example of a central institution for conversion in Rome, the Ospizio dei Convertendi. Because of the large multitude and the denominational, national and cultural diversity of the converts, this subject can be studied from a number of perspectives. Research has shown that the central, elaborate method of conversion was adapted to the circumstances of individual converts.8 (Case studies could also compile data regarding the converts who arrived from a single state, e.g. from Hungary.) Ines Peper analyzed cases of conversion in the Habsburg Court in Vienna. Her analysis sheds light on the indicator role of the Court of a monarch and on the public discussion in connection with the conversion of a member of a dynasty on the basis of the example of later empress Elisabeth Christine von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel.9 The questions raised by researchers are summarized in the study by Jörg Deventer.10 He enumerates the most important problems of conversion research. There are many problems with the numerical data, because the different types of sources have varying relationships to the numbers. He also mentions the annual reports of the Jesuits, which often give very high numbers of converts, even tens of thousands. The second question concerns the inclusion of social classes, because we have detailed knowledge about aristocrats and nobles, but we know almost nothing about members of the lower classes, the “anonyms.” Third, researchers have to reckon with the institutions, the various opportunities and manners of conversion, which ranged from persuasion to the use of military force. Finally, Deventer cautions his reader to examine conversion as a complex phenomenon and study not only its spiritual, but also its social, cultural, political and economic aspects.11

In this paper I focus on a special type of institution, the Jesuit college, which played a prominent role in the conversion processes and in the realization of the Tridentine reforms in the Early Modern period. In addition to the annual reports (Litterae Annuae) of the Jesuits, which are widely used by historians,12 I also use the college registers of pupils (matriculae) as control sources. My intention is to investigate the confessional identity of non-Catholic students of the Jesuit colleges in Western Hungary and, more specifically, their decisions to maintain their faith or convert.13 The aforementioned problems with numbers, the difficulties of identifying the individuals, and the question of motivations emerge in this case study as well, although these problems can rarely be solved.

Jesuit Colleges and Their Students

As of the 1610s, the Society of Jesus, which had come into being in the sixteenth century, began to expand rapidly in the Eastern territories of the Habsburg Monarchy, including Hungary. After the establishments in Zágráb (today Zagreb, Croatia) (1607), Nagyszombat (today Trnava, Slovakia) (1615) and Homonna (today Humenné, Slovakia) (1615), new colleges were opened in Pozsony and Győr in 1626–27 and Sopron in 1636. These institutions, according to the Jesuits’ assimilation strategy, were adapted to the local conditions. Despite the Hungarian prohibition (act 8/1608. before the coronation),14 according to which the order was not allowed to possess estates in the Kingdom of Hungary, they managed to obtain suitable buildings and estates with pontifical and aristocratic support. By this time, the profile of the Society of Jesus as a “teaching order” had proven essential. The order’s members had therefore increasingly undertaken to educate the laity on the basis of their uniform educational code, the Ratio Studiorum, published in 1599.15 They provided free education to anyone who met the minimal admission requirements, regardless of background and circumstances.

In this period, the region of Western Hungary was a frontier between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire, a borderland of Hungary. Essentially the two ruling forces in the communities were the town councils on the one hand and the military troops stationed in them on the other. The Jesuits found strong Lutheran and significant Calvinist communities, as well as multilingual and multiethnic populations in each of the three towns under examination, namely the free royal towns of Pozsony and Sopron and the episcopal market town and captain-general headquarters of Győr. Despite the conflicts accompanying the settlement of the Society of Jesus in towns with Lutheran leaderships (Pozsony, Sopron) and with local ecclesiastical institutions such as the chapters (Pozsony, Győr), all these new Jesuit establishments and colleges were successful.16 Within a couple of years, they functioned in a 5-7-year system with a large number—indeed hundreds—of students. The geographical catchment area of these schools exceeded even the regional boundaries (from Poland to the Croatian Trans-Drava regions, from Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire to the Principality of Transylvania).

For the Jesuit colleges in Pozsony, which at the time functioned as the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary, and the free royal town of Sopron, the local Lutheran schools were the most significant competitors. The Lutheran community of Pozsony, which had had its own pastor since 1606, soon established a new school, to which a schoolmaster was invited from Bavaria. The institution was organized on the model of the town of Lauingen, according to the humanist Johann Sturm’s pedagogical method.17 A similar 4-year Latin school functioned in Sopron, which, after modest beginnings in the sixteenth century, flourished later on in the period in question.18 The arrival of Jesuits who settled in their community touched a tender spot for the Sopron city leadership, and they reacted immediately. According to one of the October 24, 1636 entries in the Ratsprotokoll (the minutes of the town council), they demanded that the leadership of the Lutheran school pay more attention to the youth because of the “danger from the Jesuit side,” and that the students remain together even in the afternoon so that the Holy Scripture could be expounded to them, and that they perform the vespers (evening service) in the proper order (the town offered to help the schoolmasters if necessary).19 The assumed competition seems to be justified by the fact that in 1638 the inner council proposed new motions in connection with the school that reflect the Jesuit model. They prescribed that the students compose essays and poems and perform orations and religious school dramas, that weekly revisions and rewards be introduced, and that the discipline among the students be improved.20

In Győr there was no functioning Protestant school in the period under discussion. Although the number of Lutherans and Calvinists was significant here too, by the middle of the century, because of the efforts of the bishops, the Jesuits, and the captain generals of Győr (Philipp Graf von Mansfeld and Maximilian von Liechtenstein, who were already Catholic), the influence of the Counter-Reformation had become perceptible. Still, given the fact that there was really no alternative, it is probable that the highest number of non-Catholic students attended the Győr Jesuit College. According to Lutheran historian Sándor Payr, the Lutheran and Calvinist students “were not accepted into the higher classes of poetics and rhetorics unless they converted.”21 This view is characteristic of the earlier historiography. However, the registry entries prove otherwise.

Models of Conversion in the Annual Reports

But let us first return to the source of the aforementioned annual reports, which serves as the best basis for comparison in the case of these three Transdanubian colleges. Despite the fact that the usefulness of these accounts is limited due to their generic features (the uses to which they were put within the order, their propagandistic functions, the tendency for anonymity, and the repetition of schematic stories),22 they nonetheless help fill a gap in the historiography on this geographical area at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The historia domus in Sopron is the only one preserved since its foundation, while of the one in Pozsony only a fragment is known, and of the one in Győr, nothing. However, the annual accounts before 1651 do not commemorate the major events of the year in thematic order, but rather according to colleges, so they are much richer in detail compared to later entries, and sometimes the cases of conversion, which regrettably are mentioned only anonymously, provide a very detailed image after one has peeled off the topical elements.

I focus on accounts of the conversion of children or youths.23 These suggest that, apart from the more “urgent” cases of elderly people nearing death, the Fathers paid close attention to the young, who were regarded as the pledges of the future.

1. In what was from the Jesuits’ point of view the least successful case, the youngster recognized the truth of the Catholic faith, but fearing the wrath of his Protestant family, did not openly convert, as for instance in the case of an early example from Győr.24

2. In some cases, conversion was furthered by some external influence, such as miraculous recovery from an illness. In 1637 in Pozsony, two students of the Protestant school weakened in their newly acquired Catholic belief, so as a “punishment” they were both injured. They only recuperated after they had re-affirmed their Catholic faith.25

3. The most frequent type of conversion involved the freshly converted student who was incited against his “papist” faith by his family and was threatened or hindered in the practice of his religion. This type is well-known in the literature, because of the abovementioned example of Zsigmond Holló. He was the son of a Lutheran nobleman, a tricesimator in Szepesség (today Spiš, Slovakia). As young student in the Homonna Jesuit college, he converted in the 1610s. From his funeral sermon we know the story of his conversion, which is very similar to the case mentioned at the beginning of this study. His father wanted to kill him because of his “apostasy,” but the boy adhered to his faith despite the threat of death. Seeing this, his father converted as well. This case became so popular that in multi-confessional Upper-Hungary more school-dramas were written about him. These dramas were performed in the Hungarian Jesuit colleges, so the example of Holló probably incited other conversions as well.26 In addition to these examples, one could also mention the case of a nine-year-old boy who had to bear his Lutheran mother’s persecutions after having converted because of his attraction to the Holy Sacrament and the Holy Trinity and for wearing a rosary under his clothes.27 Another pupil from Győr was threatened with death for his faith.28 In another case, in 1647 the family of two youths who had converted to Catholicism wanted to make them eat meat mixed with bread during a time of fasting, but as soon as they noticed the trick, they disgorged the entire meal rather than fall from grace.29 In Sopron a student held out successfully against his family, which wanted to reconvert him, for half a year. An attempt was made to corrupt another young boy by his mother, who used a maid, in vain.30 We know of other similar stories from Pozsony.31 For instance, a seven-year-old boy, holding out against his family, wanted to attend Catholic services,32 and another student left his home for the sake of his conversion.33

4. To the missionaries’ great delight, the families of the students watched the boys’ examples not with outrage, but with interest. An entry from 1630 mentions the conversion of a seventy-year-old nobleman, who converted under the influence of his son.34 In Győr, Catholic practices and the strict penitence of a former Lutheran and a Calvinist student sufficed to prompt their families to convert as well.35

5. In extraordinary situations, the convert not only became an earnest believer, but also entered priesthood, as an allegedly talented pupil of the College of Sopron did in 1643.36

By mentioning negative examples in the annual accounts, the Jesuits in a few rare cases admitted not only their achievements, but also their limitations. In an exceptional case, a Catholic pupil came into conflict with his own faith. In the College of Pozsony a student who strayed from the true path reviled the Virgin Mary and the saints, so he was imprisoned and then expelled from the college.37 The accounts sometimes mention the opposite extreme too, when Catholic students helped the Fathers convert Protestants.38 However, in most cases the data only includes the number of converted students: in Győr 23 pupils were converted in 1630 and 20 in 1647. In Pozsony 5 were converted in 1646 and 6 in 1647.39

Counting Conversions in the School Registries

As it is clear, the schools were one of the main scenes of the rivalry between the confessions. Although the first half of the seventeenth century could be considered part of the period of the Counter-Reformation, bearing the stamp of influence of Archbishop Péter Pázmány (1616–37), the situation of the Protestant communities was not especially difficult in spite of the Catholic confession-building tendencies. The numerical superiority of Protestants was unquestionable in the whole territory of the Hungarian Kingdom. It is no wonder that in each of the three towns under discussion (but primarily in Pozsony and Sopron, both of which had Lutheran schools) all of the schools strove to attract more pupils. As no investigation of the Protestant institutions of the era is possible on the individual level due to the lack of relevant sources, the oldest school matriculae from the Győr and Pozsony Jesuit colleges, which cover the first half and the middle of the seventeenth century, are especially valuable. (The earliest registries from Sopron unfortunately have been lost or have not yet been found.) The value of the data they contain cannot be overestimated: their social, educational, cultural, and local historical significance is striking. To my knowledge, they have not yet been used in the historical research on Pozsony. In the case of Győr, Ferenc Acsay, who wrote the history of the local college, used the registry. But computer databases open up new perspectives in this field as well.40 By organizing the data on the individual pupils in separate rows (records), one can examine changes in longer terms on the level of the individuals. I compare and contrast the available data from the viewpoint of denominational affiliation and conversion from 19 years of the first two decades of the Győr registry (1630–50)41 with the available data from 9 years of the first decade of the Pozsony registry (1650–59).42 As the data regarding denominational affiliations is known for a high percentage of the pupils, the study can be considered representative.

In Győr, during the period in question, the denominational affiliations of 1,586 out of 2,836 students are known, which means a majority (56 percent). The chronological distribution of these entries is somewhat narrower than the whole period. This means on the one hand that the registry preserved scattered data about the denominational affiliations of the students only as of 1634. The earliest information about religion is linked with a senior student of rhetoric, the Lutheran András Huditius from Besztercebánya (today Banská Bystrica, Slovakia).43 On the other hand, the entries regarding denominational affiliation became more regular in 1637, but data are still missing on individuals or whole classes.

The majority of the students were Catholic, in the case of Győr three-quarters (75.3 percent). They were followed in number by the Lutherans, who constituted one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the students. Compared to them, a considerably smaller share, only 4.7 percent, were Calvinists. The two examples of “heretics” (perhaps also Protestants) represent extraordinary cases, as does the Israelite pupil Izsák Vecker, who attended the College of Győr (as a principist) for a single year.44

As the Table 1 shows, only an insignificant minority of the Protestant students converted, 47 pupils altogether. This means that the Jesuits’ missionary work was successful in the case of 13.5 percent of the Lutherans and 9.3 percent of the Calvinists. Therefore, the registry data does not confirm the favorable picture drawn by the Jesuit accounts.



Number of Students























Table 1. The denominational division of the students of the Győr Jesuit College (1630–50)


As further investigation of the registry entries reveals, in the multiethnic College of Győr the vast majority of the Lutheran pupils were Hungarian, and there were also smaller numbers of Germans, Slavs (Slovaks), Croats, and Transylvanian Saxons. The Calvinists, with the one exception of an Italian student (Rodolphus Picina),45 were all Hungarians. Compared to the total number of the students, therefore, the Hungarians were overrepresented in both Protestant denominations.

The proportion of non-Catholic students within the individual grades does not deviate from the total. It is also noteworthy that in both colleges (the one in Pozsony and the one in Győr), not only the fluctuation of teachers but also the fluctuation of students was very high. The majority of the pupils only went to one college for one or two years. Almost half of the students only attended the lower—the principia and the parvist—classes. In light of this, it is remarkable that the chances of conversion did not necessarily increase with the number of years spent in the college. Among the non-converts, the “record-holder” is the Lutheran child of a noble family, Márton Szombaty, from Győr, who completed the 5 grades of the college in 9 years but did not convert.46 Among the Calvinists, István Collar could be mentioned, who, after having finished his studies in 6 years, still remained true to his faith.47

Unfortunately the sources do not enable us to retrace the individual stories of the converts. It is interesting, however, that of the Lutheran converts, on the basis of the registry entry 10 were from Győr. The high proportion of the local residents is also supported by the fact that in the Győr registry of citizens48 the surnames of these pupils are sometimes included. The same surnames occur in the last wills in Győr, although given the lack of sources we cannot even be certain of the identity of the people denoted by the same names. Nevertheless, I found one example. György Lesemprot (Lesenpront) from Győr, who attended at least 4 classes taught by Jesuits in 1637–42 and in 1640 was, as a syntaxist, already Catholic,49 also appears in the will of Anna Lesenpront, which was made in 1662.50 She calls György her brother and bequeaths 45 forints to him. The odd thing about the will is that in addition to leaving some of her estate to the cathedral chapter as landlord, the testator also leaves one forint to the Győr Cathedral, which was not a unique gesture among the Győr testaments. She does this in spite of the fact that, in addition to the 10 forints she leaves to the Lutheran denomination, she wills one golden forint to the Lutheran pastor, who in return is entrusted with the funeral sermon. In other words, she must have remained Lutheran in faith, while her brother converted to Catholicism (and perhaps was not the only person in the family to do this). This incident corroborates a sentence found in the annual Jesuit accounts according to which people of different denominations often lived side by side within a family.

Unfortunately there is very little information about the people who were regarded as heretics. The “heretics” János Makranczy and Dániel Zechmaiszter, as well as the “schismata” Pál Laszlo, only studied in Győr for one year each.51 Miklós Ifju, who abandoned his Catholic faith, attended the lowest class of the college for three years in 1637–40.52 After his conversion in 1640, he remained a pupil of the school for one more year, which throws into question the alleged religious intolerance of the Jesuits. Finally, again as evidence of the Fathers’ opportunistic behavior, I mention the example of the Lutheran Ferenc Kiraly, who was domiciled in Győr and who completed 5 grades in the college in 9 years, but only converted to Catholicism in the seventh year, as a syntaxist.53

Altogether 1,464 pupils studied with the Jesuits in Pozsony in the period under discussion, and the religion of the majority of them is known (60 percent). While this data dates to a later period than the data from Győr, it is nonetheless significant, because regular entries concerning denominational affiliation survived exclusively from this decade. The denominational homogenization, i.e. the gradual triumph of Catholicism over the other denominations, may have contributed to the fact that after 1659 entries regarding denominational affiliation are only sporadic.

In comparison with the institution in Győr, the College of Pozsony is different in one fundamental way. In the overwhelming majority of the cases (96 percent) the students were Catholic. Out of the tiny remaining minority, 22 pupils (2.4 percent) were Lutherans and 14 (1.5 percent) were Calvinists. There is no information about other religions. However, as was the case in Győr, in Pozsony, only a very small proportion of the non-Catholics, 4 students, converted (Table 2).



Number of Students














Table 2. The denominational division of the students of the Pozsony Jesuit College (1650–59)


The ethnic division of the Protestant pupils of the Pozsony College is similar to the Győr data. The ethnicity of each of the Lutherans is known. There were only four Slovaks and two Germans among them, and the rest were all Hungarian. Each of the Calvinists was Hungarian. Furthermore, it is noteworthy (albeit not surprising) that in the case of both Protestant denominations there is a high proportion of students from noble families: 9 among the Calvinists and 10 among the Lutherans.

As was the case in Győr, in the college of Pozsony there was also considerable “through traffic.” This tendency was characteristic irrespective of denomination (in other words it was true of the Protestant pupils as well). More than half (13 pupils) of the Lutherans and one-third (5 pupils) of the Calvinists spent only one year in the institution. In the case of Pozsony progress in school did not necessarily correlate with conversion to the Catholic faith. A conspicuous example is János Váczy, a descendant of a noble family from Nagymad (today Mad, Slovakia), a village in Pozsony county, who finished all five grades, including rhetoric, and remained Lutheran.54

The only Calvinist convert was noble István Udvari from Nagyszombat, who completed the top three classes of the college in four years (1650–53) between the ages of 17 and 20. He is first mentioned as a Catholic in 1652, so he converted after two years.55 The Calvinist connection of the family is known. His ancestors were supporters of Albert Szenczi Molnár.56 How István’s conversion affected other members of the family we do not know.

Among the Lutheran converts, János Brunczlik from Galgóc (today Hlohovec, Slovakia) was probably not of noble origins, and his ethnic background is hazy. (He was presumably multilingual: he was registered as Hungarian in 1657 and as Slovak in 1658.) Between 1657 and 1659, he finished the three lower grades (principia, grammatica, syntaxis), and by his grammatical year he had been converted.57 András Czernyansky58 and Gáspár Zambokrety,59 both of whom were from a noble family, were registered as Slovaks. András finished college with the exception of the topmost grade, rhetoric, between 1650 and 1653, while Gáspár completed only the two lowest grades in three years (1657–59). Both of them converted to Catholicism after (or during) their first year. András was from Szedlicsna, Trencsén county (today Trenčianske Stankovce–Sedličná, Slovakia).60 Gáspár probably was the descendant of the well-known noble Sámbokréty family from Nyitra county, because according to the registry he was from Lieszkó (today Cerová–Lieskové, Slovakia).61

The enrolment of non-Catholic students was acceptable in the first decades of the Jesuit colleges in both Győr and Pozsony. All we can suppose about the character of the Sopron College, given that we do not have its registry, is that it may have resembled the College of Pozsony. In the case of Pozsony, it is obvious that the presence of the Lutheran school significantly diminished the presence of Protestant pupils in the Catholic college. Further instances in Hungary are not yet known, hence it is not easy to offer an answer to the question as to which institution could be considered the most typical from the viewpoint of denominational proportions.


* * *


In conclusion, as this examination of school registries shows, the Jesuits were much more tolerant of non-Catholic pupils than has generally been assumed. This phenomenon can probably be taken as characteristic of other Hungarian Jesuit colleges, at least in the beginning and the middle of the seventeenth century. No one was deprived of the opportunity to attend higher grades, and it was not necessary to be Catholic in order to gain admission to the colleges. On the one hand, the reason for this can be found in the denominational proportions and the strength of the Protestant denominations in the Kingdom of Hungary. On the other hand, Protestants attended Catholic schools because these Jesuit colleges had hardly any competition: these institutions provided free education of the highest standard among the denominational schools.

Given the lack of sources, we can venture few conjectures regarding how the non-Catholic students participated in religious life, in Catholic liturgies, processions, prayers or even in dramatic performances of the school, if such participation was required of them at all. However, it seems that in their studies they were not discriminated against. For scholarship on the processes and trends in religious conversion in Hungary this statement is important: the use of new types of sources can enable us to challenge some the stereotypes that have gained widespread acceptance in the historiography. This can influence our understanding of ecclesiastical history and, in a narrow sense, the history of the Society of Jesus, but also, for the later centuries and with sociological methods, research on elites and schooling.62 Consequently, Jesuit colleges cannot be considered Catholic “wonder weapons” of conversion, although in the long run it is indisputable that their endeavors had a strong influence, which culminated in the Baroque Catholic Church.


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1 Litterae Annuae 1639. Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Handschriftensammlung (= ÖNB) Cod. 12218. 358r. – My research in Rome and in Vienna was supported by the scholarships of “Campus Hungary” (2013) and “Collegium Hungaricum (CH/2)” (2013) of the Balassi Institute (Budapest).

2 The story resembles the conversion of Zsigmond Holló, which was also the object of numerous school dramas, see below. Pintér Márta Zsuzsanna, “A jezsuita ifjúság 17. századi példaképe: Holló Zsigmond,” in Historicus Societatis Iesu: Szilas László Emlékkönyv, ed. Antal Molnár, Csaba Szilágyi, and István Zombori, METEM Könyvek 62 (Budapest: METEM, 2007), 322–31.

3 Catalogus discipulorum Jauriensis Gymnasii Societatis Jesu, 1630–1668. Pannonhalmi Főapátsági Könyvtár Kézirattára, 120b A 19. (= Cat.Jaur.) 44v, 47v.

4 On the contemporary religious situation of the Habsburg Empire see: Thomas Winkelbauer, Ständefreiheit und Fürstenmacht: Länder und Untertanen des Hauses Habsburg im Konfessionellen Zeitalter, vol. 8, bk. 2 of Österreichische Geschichte 1522–1699, ed. Herwig Wolfram (Vienna: Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, 2003), 9–90. Cf. R. Po-chia Hsia, “Introduction”, in The World of Catholic Renewal, 1540–1770. 2nd edition (Cambridge: University Press, 2005), 7–8.

5 On the notion of “missionary seigniorial counter-reformation” (“térítő földesúri ellenreformáció”) see: Katalin Péter, “A jezsuiták működésének első szakasza Sárospatakon,” in Katalin Péter, Papok és nemesek: Magyar művelődéstörténeti tanulmányok a reformációval kezdődő másfél évszázadból, A Ráday Gyűjtemény tanulmányai 8 (Budapest: Ráday Gyűjtemény, 1995), 186–99, and István Fazekas, “Falusi közösségek hitváltoztatása a XVII. században,” in István Fazekas, A reform útján: A katolikus megújulás Nyugat-Magyarországon, A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 20 (Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2014), 187–95.

6 Cf. Géza Pálffy, The Kingdom of Hungary and the Habsburg Monarchy in the Sixteenth Century, transl. J. Thomas and Helen D. DeKornfeld, CHSP Hungarian Studies Series 18, East European Monographs 735 (Boulder, Col.: Social Science Monographs, 2009), 209–33.

7 Lieke Stelling and Todd M. Richardson: “Introduction,” in The Turn of the Soul: Representations of Religious Conversion in Early Modern Art and Literature, ed. Lieke Stelling, Harald Hendrix, and Todd M. Richardson, Intersections. Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture 23 (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 1–17.

8 Cf. Ricarda Matheus, “Forschungsstand,” in Konversionen in Rom in der Frühen Neuzeit: Das Ospizio dei Convertendi 1673–1750, Bibliothek des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 126 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2012), 3–18.

9 Cf. Ines Peper, “Einleitung,” in Konversionen im Umkreis des Wiener Hofes um 1700, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 55 (Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2010), 13–28.

10 Jörg Deventer, “Konversionen zwischen den christlichen Konfessionen im frühneuzeitlichen Europa,” Wiener Zeitschrift zur Geschichte der Neuzeit 7, no. 2 (2007): 8–24 (with a comprehensive bibliography).

11 These questions are also studied by Martin Scheutz, “Glaubenswechsel als Massenphänomen in der Habsburgermonarchie im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert: Konversionen bei Hof sowie die ‘Bekehrung’ der Namenlosen,” in Geheimprotestantismus und evangelische Kirchen in der Habsburgermonarchie und im Erzstift Salzburg (17./18. Jahrhundert), ed Rudolf Leeb, Martin Scheutz, and Dietmar Weikl, Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Österreichische Geschichtsforschung 51 (Vienna–Munich: Böhlau–Oldenbourg, 2009), 431–55.

12 On the genre and documentary value of the Litterae Annuae see: Markus Friedrich, “Circulating and compiling the litterae annuae: Towards a history of the Jesuit system of communication,” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 153 (2008): 3–37.

13 The registries have only been used to a lesser extent and with debatable success, e.g. Sándor Horváth, “Horvát diákok a nyugat-magyarországi jezsuita gimnáziumokban a XVII–XVIII. században,” in A magyar jezsuiták küldetése a kezdetektől napjainkig, ed. Csaba Szilágyi. Művelődéstörténeti Műhely Rendtörténeti konferenciák 2. (Piliscsaba: Pázmány Péter Katolikus Egyetem, 2006), 520–38. The analysis of the matriculae is proposed by István Fazekas, “Bevezetés helyett: katolikus megújulás a győri egyházmegyében a XVI. és XVII. században (kutatási lehetőségek és eredmények),” in Fazekas, A reform útján, 15.

14 Dezső Márkus, ed., Corpus juris Hungarici. Magyar törvénytár: 1608–1657. évi törvényczikkek, trans. Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári (Budapest: Franklin-társulat, 1900), 15.

15 On the early phase of the development of the Jesuit college as an institution see: Ladislaus Lukács, “De origine collegiorum externorum deque controversiis circa eorum paupertatem obortis (1539–1608),” Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu 29 (1960): 189–245, 30 (1961): 3–89.

16 On the foundation of each college see: Tamás Dénesi, “Missziótól a kollégiumig: Jezsuiták Pozsonyban 1635-ig,” Magyar Egyháztörténeti Vázlatok 10, no. 3−4 (1998): 87–115; Zsófia Kádár, “A jezsuiták letelepedése és kollégiumalapítása Győrben (1626–1630),” in In labore fructus: Jubileumi tanulmányok Győregyházmegye történetéből, ed. Gábor Nemes and Ádám Vajk, A Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár Kiadványai, Források, feldolgozások 13 (Győr: Győri Egyházmegyei Levéltár, 2011), 209–34; Zsófia Kádár, “A soproni jezsuita kollégium kezdetei: Dobronoki György SJ superiorsága (1636−1640),” Soproni Szemle 65 (2011): 381–402, 66 (2012): 54–70; Zsófia Kádár, “Jesuitische Kolleggründungen im westungarischen Raum in der ersten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts: Die Beispiele von Győr/Raab und Sopron/Ödenburg,” in Frühneuzeitforschung in der Habsburgermonarchie: Adel und Wiener Hof − Konfessionalisierung – Siebenbürgen, ed. István Fazekas et al., Publikationen der Ungarischen Geschichtsforschung in Wien 7 (Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien, 2013), 155−70.

17 Cf. Sámuel Markusovszky, A pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. lyceum története kapcsolatban a pozsonyi ág. hitv. evang. egyház multjával (Pozsony: Eder István, 1896), 1–31.

18 Cf. Sándor Payr, A reformáció kezdetétől az 1681. évi soproni országgyűlésig, vol. 1 of A soproni evangélikus egyházközség története (Sopron: Soproni Ág. Hitv. Evang. Egyházközség, 1917), 202, 297–99.

19 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Győr-Moson-Sopron Megyei Levéltárának Soproni Levéltára, Sopron Város Levéltára, Ratsprotokoll, October 24, 1636.

20 Cf. Sándor Kolosvári and Kelemen Óvári, eds., A dunántúli törvényhatóságok jogszabályai, vol. 5, bk. 2 of A magyar törvényhatóságok jogszabályainak gyüjteménye (Budapest: n.p., 1904), 187–88. The statute of free royal town Sopron (1638), point 2.

21 Sándor Payr, A Dunántúli Evangélikus Egyházkerület története, vol. 1 (Sopron: Székely és Társa, 1924), 370.

22 Cf. note 11.

23 The conversion reports of juveniles are repeated in the Litterae Annuae almost every year; in the cases of Pozsony and Győr from 1630, and of Sopron from 1636.

24 Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu (= ARSI), Austr. 135, 684 (Győr, 1630).

25 ÖNB Cod. 12218, 243v (Pozsony, 1637).

26 Cf. Pintér, A jezsuita ifjúság.

27 ÖNB Cod. 12218, 451r. (Győr, 1640).

28 Ibid., 12219, 136r. (Győr, 1642).

29 Ibid., 12220, 38v. (Győr, 1647).

30 Ibid., 12219, 81r. (Sopron, 1641), ÖNB Cod. 12220, 345r–v. (Sopron, 1650).

31 E.g. ARSI Austr. 136, 385. (Pozsony, 1635).

32 ÖNB Cod. 12220, 50r. (Pozsony, 1647).

33 Ibid., 226v. (Pozsony, 1649)

34 ARSI Austr. 135, 681. (Pozsony, 1630).

35 ÖNB Cod. 12219, 136r–v. (Győr, 1642).

36 Ibid., 180r. (Sopron, 1643).

37 Ibid., 12218, 448r.

38 Ibid., 12218, 245r. (Győr, 1637), ÖNB Cod. 12220, 38r. (Győr, 1647).

39 ARSI Austr. 135, 684., ÖNB Cod. 12220, 38r., ÖNB Cod. 12219, 404r., ÖNB Cod. 12220, 50r.

40 Ferenc Acsay, A győri kath. főgimnázium története 1626–1900 (Győr: n.p., 1901), 88–143.

41 Data from 1639 and partly from 1645 are missing. In 1644, schooling was interrupted due to the plague.

42 The register of 1655 is missing. The Pozsony register: Matrica gymnasii Posoniensis ab anno 1650 usque ad annum 1725, Esztergomi Főszékesegyházi Könyvtár, Coll. Batthyány, Cat. IX. Lit. Tit. I. f. (= Matr. Pos.).

43 Cat. Jaur., 21v.

44 Ibid., 25v. – We also know of other converted Israelites, especially young boys and their mothers, e.g. from Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia) in 1701, cf. Paul Shore, Narratives of Adversity. Jesuits on the Eastern Peripheries of the Habsburg Realms 1640–1773 (Budapest–New York: CEU Press, 2012), 102.

45 Cat. Jaur., 46r.

46 Ibid., 24v, 30r, 32v, 36v, 42v, 47r, 51r, 54v.

47 Ibid., 17v, 23v, 29r, 31v, 35v, 41v.

48 Gyula Morvai, Mezővárosi időszak 1600–1743, vol. 1 of Győri Polgárkönyv, Levéltári Füzetek 10 (Győr: Győr Megyei Jogú Város Levéltára, 2007).

49 Cat. Jaur., 38v, 47v, 51v, 54v.

50 József Horváth, Győri végrendeletek a 17. századból, vol. 3, 1655–1699 (Győr: Győr-Moson-Sopron Megye Győri Levéltára, 1997), 66–67 (no. 266.).

51 Cat. Jaur., 50v, 52v, 66v.

52 Ibid., 40r, 50v, 54r.

53 Ibid., 38r, 44v, 48v, 52r, 56r, 59r, 64r, 65v.

54 Matr. Pos., 11v, 18v, 24v, 30v, 36v. About the family: Denis Pongrácz et al., ed., Pozsony vármegye nemes családjai (Somorja: Méry Ratio, 2008), 398–99.

55 Matr. Pos., 9v, 16v, 22r, 30r.

56 Pongrácz, Pozsony vármegye, 395.

57 Matr. Pos., 50r, 55r, 59v.

58 Ibid., 11r, 18r, 23v, 30r.

59 Ibid., 49v, 56r, 60v.

60 I could not identify the family, it is not mentioned in the work of Iván Nagy (see below).

61 About the family: Iván Nagy, Magyarország családai czimerekkel és nemzékrendi táblákkal, vol. 12 (Pest: Beimel J. és Kozma Vazul, 1865), 25–29, Gáspár is not indicated.

62 Cf. e.g. Viktor Karády and Péter Tibor Nagy, Iskolázás, értelmiség és tudomány a 19–20. századi Magyarországon, Szociológiai dolgozatok 5 (Budapest: Wesley János Lelkészképző Főiskola, 2012), 9–29.



pdfVolume 3 Issue 4 CONTENTS

Miklós Konrád

The Social Integration of the Jewish Upper Bourgeoisie in the Hungarian Traditional Elites

A Survey of the Period from the Reform Era to World War I

In the spirit of the principles of liberal nationalism, which dominated Hungarian political life from the Reform Era to the end of World War I, Christian politicians and intellectuals tirelessly emphasized their firm belief that, in addition to acculturating and identifying with the Hungarian nation, the Jewry must also integrate socially into majority Christian society. This call for integration also allotted a task to the Christian members of Hungarian society, namely that they welcome their compatriots into their social circles. The views of contemporaries notwithstanding, according to whom the greatest aspiration of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie was to gain acceptance into the circles of the traditional social elites and their families, this striving was really only characteristic of the second and third generations of upper-class Jewish families. With regards to the last stage of integration, in other words marriage into the families of the traditional elite, with one exception that confirms the rule, this was only possible for Jews if they were willing to convert. Following the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, decades that were more open from the perspective of integration into the social sphere, the traditional elites closed ranks. The National Casino, which had been founded in 1827, accepted its last Jewish member in 1872. Neither the Country Casino that was created in 1883 (it was referred to as the Országos Kaszinó, i.e. the word “nemzeti,” or “national,” was replaced with “országos,” which means national in the more political sense) nor the Park Club (which was created in 1895) ever had a single Jew among their members, though both had many Christian members who had converted from Judaism. This constituted a clear contradiction of the liberal promise of social integration, though at the same time it also indicates that exclusion was not (yet) based on concepts of race.

Keywords: social integration, Hungarian Jews, Jewish conversions, mixed marriages

“What can the Hungarian nation justifiably and rightly expect of the Jews?” Hungarian novelist and public figure Kálmán Mikszáth raised this question in an editorial published in Szegedi Napló (Szeged Journal) in October 1880. While Mikszáth placed expectations on the “Jews,” he also did not neglect to write on the obligations of the “Hungarians”:

Thus while the Jewry must do everything it can in order to draw closer, in its education and culture, its social concepts and customs, to educated Hungarian society, Hungarian society must embrace the Jewry and ease and promote its integration.1

In the spirit of liberal nationalism, which was the dominant political ideology of the period beginning with the Reform Era and ending with World War I, the Christian politicians and intellectuals of the time were far more likely to put emphasis on the obligations of the Jews to acculturate and to cultivate a sentimental attachment to the Hungarian nation. At the same time, the integration of the Jewish inhabitants of the country, who had been emancipated in 1867, clearly depended on the willingness of the majority society to welcome them among their ranks. The program of the liberals of the Reform era, which called for the transformation of Hungary into a bourgeois liberal state, brought with it a call for the removal of the “social dividing walls” (to use the jargon of the time). The destruction of the “dividing walls” that prevented the integration of the Jews whose acculturation was to strengthen the Hungarian ethnic group was part and parcel of this program.

The Christian minority of the Hungarian upper bourgeoisie which began to emerge in the first half of the nineteenth century and by the early twentieth century had grown to include some 800–1000 families, consisted for the most part of German burgher families who had settled in Hungary considerably earlier and entrepreneurs who had come to Hungary in the 1830s and 1840s, mostly from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.2 For the Jews, who constituted the majority of this upper bourgeoisie, in case they wished to gain acceptance into a Hungarian Christian milieu, this could only be the aristocracy of birth and the upper echelons of the nobility that began in the 1870s to refer to itself as the “gentry” and, later, as the “historical middle class”.3

In this essay I attempt to offer an answer to the question of the actual extent to which these “dividing walls,” i.e. the social obstacles to the integration of upper-class Jews, were (or were not) dismantled. How inclined were members of the traditional elites to come into contact in social circles with members of the Jewish upper class, or to accept Jews into their clubs, homes and families? And to the extent that there was hesitancy or resistance, could it be overcome if a member of the Jewish upper class were to convert?

Historiography has paid little attention to the question of the social integration of the Jewry in Hungary, and the scholarship that has been published on the subject has tended to deal primarily with the wealthier social strata.4 At the same time, the absence of a comprehensive survey covering the entire period in question is a clear sign of the lack of research on the subject. Although this would provide a useful means of assessing the extent of social integration, there has been no comprehensive empirical study on Jewish membership in the casinos.

In the first section of this essay, I examine the question of the extent to which members of the Jewish upper bourgeoisie actually sought to gain acceptance into the circles of the traditional elites. I then offer a chronological survey of the period, which spans almost a century, in which I trace the shifting dynamics of acceptance and exclusion. Finally, in part to offer some counterbalance to the indispensable but nonetheless clearly subjective contemporary assessments and later recollections on which I draw in the first two sections, I present the findings of my research on the number of professing or converted Jews who were integrated into the three most prestigious clubs of the traditional elites, the National Casino, the Country Casino, and the Park Club.

Strivings towards Integration

The first question concerns simply the extent to which the striving to gain acceptance into the traditional social elites can be considered characteristic of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie, if indeed it can be considered characteristic at all. According to the almost unanimous opinion of contemporaries, all prosperous Jews craved integration. In the short stories published in the Reform Era, the primary characteristic of the figure of the wealthy Jew, who was almost portrayed negatively, was still avarice.5 This portrayal began to be supplanted in the 1850s and 1860s by the cliché of the nouveau riche Jew who longed to curry the favor of the magnates and looked down on his more modest coreligionists.6 From the 1880s on, in the novels of Christian authors, the figure of the wealthy landowning Jewish “new noblemen” who converted to Christianity (or had his children converted) in order to gain acceptance among the aristocratic families for himself or for his children was at times an unsympathetic character, at times a fallible one, but one who was always motivated first and foremost by his desire for integration. This portrayal also represented an implicit criticism of the traditional, biased, hidebound elite that refused to accept wealthy Jews into their circles.7 This image did not change substantially in the literature of the turn of the century. In Ferenc Herczeg’s 1903 novel Andor és András (Andor and Andrew), the father of one of the protagonists is a genuine self-made business man proud of his successes but who spares no effort to gain acceptance into the aristocratic Trotting Club, “where he has no business being and where they have no desire whatsoever to let him in.”8

In the literary works of Jewish authors one finds even more negative depictions of the Jewish upper bourgeoisie. As early as the 1860s, the image of the parvenu was coupled with the contention that this class itself was responsible for anti-Semitism. In the 1866 narrative by Bertalan Ormody, the primary cause of anti-Semitism is still the worship by wealthy Jews of the “idol of money,”9 while in Ferenc Molnár’s first novel, published in 1901, it was their yearning to rub shoulders with the aristocracy and the gentry.10 In other works, for instance a comedy by Ignác Acsády published in 1880 or Ferenc Molnár’s humorous sketches of 1911, the image of wealthy Jews is less negative, but their longing to mix with the Christian elites remains a prominent element of the satire.11 In more ambitious works, such as Tamás Kóbor’s 1911 novel, the old accusation again emerges according to which the snobbishness and cowardice of prosperous Jews was “the only reason for anti-Semitism.”12

This accusation found expression in works of non-fiction as well, for instance in the campaign speeches of Vilmos Vázsonyi, the leader of the Democratic Party.13 The cliché of the wealthy Jew who sought to worm his way into Christian society was also an important element of the bourgeois radicals’ critique of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie. According to this critique, instead of taking part in the struggle for the democratic transformation of the country, the Jewish upperclass submitted to the wishes of the traditional elite, which it served with servile cowardice in the hopes of winning acceptance into its ranks.14

For a long time these contemporary assessments were adopted a-critically by Hungarian historians,15 who could also find confirmation of their views in the thesis of “feudalization,” which was popular for a time in the historiography in the West and which was applied by William McCagg to Jews in Hungary who had obtained titles of nobility.16 The thesis, according to which the Jewish upper bourgeoisie longed to gain acceptance into the social circles of the magnates and the nobles was first called into question by László Varga. In an essay published in 1983, he persuasively argued that, in contrast with the widely accepted view, marriages of Jews into families that belonged to the traditional elites did not reach “mass proportions.” The vast majority of upper-class Jews who bore noble titles had been ennobled in recognition of the roles they had in fact played in strengthening the economy of the country, and the purchase of estates had been motivated by carefully considered economic interests, not the desire for integration. In Varga’s assessment, the view according to which the Jewish upper bourgeoisie in general longed to rub shoulders with the “traditional ruling class” was “fundamentally” exaggerated.17 In an essay published a few years later, Viktor Karády was even more emphatic. With its “archaic lifestyle” and dwindling economic influence, the traditional elite “obviously” did not represent a milieu into which the Jewish upper class would integrate. “Remaining in an alliance with this elite was expedient as long as this elite was in power, but ‘assimilation’ into it would have been a suicide attempt.”18

On the basis of our actual knowledge, one cannot determine the precise extent to which members of the Jewish upper class actually strove to gain acceptance into the social circles and families of the traditional elites. As I have attempted to show, the literature and journalism of the time presented a uniform picture. The cliché of the wealthy Jew craving the company of aristocrats and old noble families is also found in memoirs and recollections. Hilda Bauer, who was somewhat familiar with this social strata because of her contact with the friends and acquaintances of her brother, writer and poet Béla Balázs, made the following claim: “The greatest ambition of the wealthy and distinguished Jewry of the time was to befriend and come into contact with distinguished Christian families, if possible families that belonged to the gentry or the aristocracy.”19

Other people’s recollections contradict this contention. In the literary memoirs of Anna Lesznai, for instance, her grandfather on her mother’s side, József Deutsch, who acquired Hungarian nobility in 1879, is presented as a merchant who looked with scorn on the ancient nobility and was proud of his bourgeois and Jewish background, as well as the “feinbürgerlich” spirit of his home.20 József Lukács, the father of philosopher György Lukács, also seems in no way to have sought to curry the favor of the traditional elites. When his family moved into a villa on Gellért Hill (a prosperous neighborhood in Budapest) in 1917, one of their neighbors suggested that they pay a visit to countess Margit Bethlen, the wife of count György Bánffy, who lived nearby. According to Mária Lukács, her father firmly dismissed the idea: “My father said he will not fawn over the counts. If by chance they should meet, then fine, but he would not go.”21

Marrying into the Traditional Elites

One can make the following claim with reasonable confidence: in the Dualist era, the desire to win acceptance into the circles of the traditional elite was less characteristic of the generation that had acquired significant wealth than it was of their children and grandchildren, members of the second and third generation of upper-class Jews, who had been born into prosperity. This is most evident if one examines trends in marriages. This by no means constituted a break on the part of the younger generations with the efforts or wishes of their parents, since the choice of a spouse among these social strata was less a matter of love than it was a means of strengthening the family’s social position, in other words a decision either made by or least approved by the head of the household. In any event, sooner or later, among a significant proportion of upper-class Jewish families, at least one member married into a family belonging to the traditional social elite.22

As far as we know, these marriages were preceded by the conversion of the Jewish bride or bridegroom with only a single exception, and in this case, too, eventually the Jewish partner converted. Before the law of 1894: XXXI. on the introduction of civil marriage came into effect, baptism was naturally inevitable. Since the law did not permit conversion to the Jewish faith, a Jew could only marry a Christian after having converted. This often took place immediately before the wedding. Ottilia Schosberger, the daughter of Henrik Schosberger and Zsófia Hellmann (neither of whom left the Jewish fold), was baptized on July 1, 1882. The next day, she married Baron Pál Bornemisza.23

As of October 1, 1895, it was no longer necessary for a Jew to convert in order to marry a Christian in a civil ceremony. The introduction of civil marriage, however, did not bring about any change with regards to the entry of wealthy Jews into the aristocracy and the upper layers of the “historical middle class” through marriage. With the exception of Melánia Blaskovich de Ebeczk, a member of the illustrious Blaskovich family, not a single man or woman belonging to these social strata and sharing their cultural values married a Jew.24 (As for Melánia Blaskovich, she not only married Hermann Königswarter, who was Jewish, but also acquiesced to the request of her father-in-law, Viennese Baron Moritz von Königswarter, and herself converted to Judaism. After her father-in-law’s death, both she and her husband converted to Catholicism.25) For wealthy Jews who hoped to marry into families belonging to these circles, conversion remained even after 1895 a compulsory and self-evident precondition. However, it is important to stress that those who were willing to convert achieved their goal. In contrast with the situation in Germany, in Hungary there were hardly any cases of an upper-class convert to Christianity who, wealth and conversion notwithstanding, was unable to find a spouse belonging to a noble or an aristocratic family.26

Social Mixing: a Chronological Overview

The next question is to what extent the traditional elite was willing to mix with unconverted Jews and accept them into its social circles?

One can speak of social contact (that went beyond professional contexts) between Jews and Gentiles as of the Reform Era in Hungary, the period in which liberal ideas began to gain ground and an already relatively broad layer of entrepreneurial Jews began to emerge. In 1831, August Ellrich, a German from Berlin, published a book on his travels in Hungary. According to Ellrich, while there were many wealthy and “elegant” Jews in Hungary, “one searches in vain among them for high society, badges of honor, or medals and ribbons,” since “the Hungarian” is unwilling to sit at the same table as a Jew.27 Nonetheless—and this can be regarded as the first sign on the institutional level of increased social openness with regards to Jews—in the 1830s and 1840s many casinos and societies accepted Jews as members. According to Michael Silber, from this perspective, the nobility was more socially open than the traditional Bürgertum.28

Beginning in the 1850s and the 1860s, the directorships of share holding companies became one of the major sites of interaction between wealthy Jews and male members of the noble and especially aristocratic families.29 This contact, of course, was confined to a narrow, formal framework, and it is quite possible that some of the aristocrats were not terribly happy about it. In 1855, Imre Vahot, who was striving to promote the social acceptance of acculturated Jews, found himself compelled to remark: “In this perspective, the Hungarian aristocracy, which is fiercely proud of its roots, still shows the greatest antipathy and even scorn for the Jew.”30

In the period that began with the defeat of the 1848 uprising against the Habsburgs and came to an end in the late 1870s, the tendency, nonetheless, is clear: the aristocracy and, even more so, the (more) liberal members of the nobility grew increasingly open to the idea of mixing with Jews. This harmonized with the emergence of more favorable attitudes towards Jews in general. As Dávid Kóhn writes, in the 1850s and 1860s:

The Jews, even if they did not have political rights, […] enjoyed a better position in the social sphere in Hungary than they ever did later. […] In many of the cities in the provinces, the distinguished nobility and burghers, who were engaged in passive resistance, did not invite the distinguished officials who had served in the Bach and Schmerling era to the festivities when they were organizing merry gatherings, even if, and indeed particularly if the officials were Hungarians to the core; in contrast, they invited and were glad to welcome the more refined Jews to their parties, and not just the men, but the female members of their families as well.31

In the 1860s more and more casinos and societies opened their doors to Jews.32 This philo-Semitic mood found symbolic expression on December 19, 1860, when a “banquet of brotherhood” was held in the European Hotel with some 600 participants,33 and in the spring of 1867 (not long before the emancipation of the Jews in December of that year), when the so-called Equality Circle was founded. The goal of this Circle, which was created on the initiative of Móric Szentkirályi, the lord mayor of Pest, was to foster amicable relationships between Jews and Christians. Its first president was general György Klapka, who in 1866 had been permitted to return to the country from exile. Ignác Barnay, the secretary of the Israelite Community of Pest, was elected vice president. Soon after having been founded, it had 600 members, 250 of whom were Jewish.34

Contact between Jews and gentiles was not limited to formal, institutional contexts. In 1869, in addition to Anton von Schmerling and Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust, Elek Thaisz, the chief commissioner of police of Pest, and Ferenc Házmán, Buda’s (last) mayor, were all present at the marriage in Vienna of the daughter of Popper Lipót and Henrik Goldberger, who two years earlier had been granted Hungarian nobility. They were joined by lord lieutenants, royal councilors, and “many other important people, without regards to religious difference.”35

The 1870s saw the emergence of a stratum of provincial Jews who, with their wealth, their lifestyle, and sometimes their freshly acquired noble titles, constituted a potential partner for the local elites. In 1872, Mór Moscovitz, who had been ennobled in 1867, purchased an estate in Zemplén County of some 4,000 “hold,” or roughly 2,300 hectares. His son, Géza Moscovitz, Anna Lesznai’s father, who enjoyed horseback riding and hunting, settled here. The local aristocratic families and propertied noblemen accepted him into their social circles, the families often rubbed elbows.36 According to the autobiography of Vilmos Vázsonyi’s wife, her father, Jakab Schwartz, a landowner from Mátészalka, “had close friendships with the most influential upper-class families,” in part because, since he was the district president of the Liberal Party, the preparations for the elections were held in his home.37

As far as the political center was concerned, in addition to sharing gossip in the hallways of parliament, some Jewish representatives had friendly relationships with members of the traditional political elite. In the club of the Liberal Party, Károly Sváb, a Jewish man who had been elected to parliament in 1875 and who in 1885 was nominated member of the Upper House for life, was regularly the fourth at Kálmán Tisza’s tarot card table, alongside István Nedeczky and Mór Jókai.38

According to contemporaries, anti-Semitism, which began to gain ground in the beginning of the 1880s, found manifestation in efforts to hamper the social integration of Jews. The acquisition of ancient estates by Jews, Ferenc Pulszky wrote in 1880, gave rise to increasing antipathy towards these new estate owners, even among members of the gentry that still owned their estates:

We vilify the Jews if they obtain wealth, only rarely do we let them socialize with us, and then we are angered if they leave the country, which indeed gave them civil equality, but only rarely social equality. […] And if they remain in the country and bind their interests to the soil of the homeland, purchase livestock, and farm the land as we do, or better than we do, we do not love that either, we do not socialize with them as we do with other neighbors, and even if we don’t say it, we still think it: a Jew is still a Jew.39

According to the weekly periodical Egyenlőség (Equality), which played an important role in the life of the Neolog Jewish community from the moment of its founding in 1882, the first palpable sign of anti-Semitism was precisely the sudden halt of social integration.40 In 1883, one author, who looked back nostalgically on the 1870s, wrote the following:

One of the basic preconditions of social integration is mutual informal contact. The first vile outgrowth of the current perverted tendency was precisely the termination of this informal contact. At the beginning of the 1870s, how many mixed women’s associations were there, Jews were accepted as members in the casinos, in various circles. In social circles, at balls, etc. the most beautiful harmony prevailed. […] Today we see everywhere a certain coldness, capricious moods, motions from all sides for the elimination of Jews from the casinos. Jews are left out of elite balls all over the country, they are never asked to serve as organizers.41

Other authors, however, felt that political anti-Semitism hardly did anything to worsen the already deplorable situation. According to the anonymous author of a pamphlet published in the middle of the 1880s:

Hatred and distrust of Jews always existed, it was just latent—in public life and social relations, however, it always found form. […] The difference between the state of affairs today and the state of affairs earlier is simply that what before was latent or only manifest in social relations today is openly proclaimed.42

The case of Mór Wahrmann, a banker and the first Jewish member of Hungarian parliament, clearly illustrates that the situation was more complex than this might suggest. In 1883, all of Budapest, as it were, was present for the wedding of his daughter, Renée Wahrmann, and Izidor Krausz de Megyer in the synagogue in Dohány Street. The guests included minister of finance Gyula Szapáry, former minister of finance Kálmán Széll, and lord mayor Károly Ráth.43 Many important figures of public life were frequent guests in Wahrmann’s home as well, the press regularly reported on his Thursday salons, particularly if the guests on a given occasion were unusually prominent. In February, 1881, for instance, in addition to composer Ferenc Liszt, poet and novelist Pál Gyulai, and literary historian Zsolt Beöthy, several influential members of the political elite were also among Wahrmann’s guests, including Gyula Szapáry, Frigyes Podmaniczky, Albert Apponyi and Kálmán Széll, who also brought his wife (and this detail is not irrelevant).44 His guests, however, were not nearly so hospitable. As an anonymous author who was familiar with “Budapest society” (i.e. the Christian elite of the capital) wrote in 1886, “the aristocrats are happy to go to [Wahrmann’s] lunches and evenings, but extending an invitation to him is not really on the agenda.”45

In the first half of the 1890s, Christian authors tended to write about how signs of anti-Semitism, while gradually disappearing from political life, continued to find manifestation in social life, and to discourse on the isolation and exclusion of the “Lipótváros,” the central district of Budapest the name of which was used as a synonym for the Jewish upper bourgeoisie.46 In contrast, from the end of the 1880s articles in the Jewish press claimed to have observed mild improvements. With “patriotic joy,” the author of an article published in Egyenlőség ushering in 1889 made the following claim:

Ostentatious exclusiveness is beginning to disappear from social life as well. […] While in the so-called civilized states, the knights of darkness have not yet put down their arms, here the open battle has ended, the open attacks have fallen silent.47

In 1896, the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival of the Hungarian tribes in the Carpathian Basin and the year that followed significant reforms in ecclesiastical policy, Ödön Gerő, a journalist who was active in Jewish community life as well, wrote with confidence:

Here live the children of chance, there the favorites of good fortune. Here they begin as barons, there barony is the final goal. The differences are huge, but the great storm that is brewing, the rumbles of which one can already hear, will herd them together.48

However, in the same year Miksa Szabolcsi, the editor-in-chief of Egyenlőség, wrote of new obstacles:

Particularly this year, our Christian brothers are taking heed to ensure that no Jew dances, at least not with them. Since the Tiszaeszlár plague [a blood libel that sparked anti-Semitic agitation across Hungary in the first half of the 1880s], there have never been as many Jew-free balls in Budapest as there were this year. […] Abhorrence of the Jew is spreading again.49

Seven years later, Miklós Zay wrote an essay on the social position of Jews. He made no mention of any chronological break, but his recollections confirm Szabolcsi’s assessment:

In 1897, I was president of the first of the great balls of the capital, and when it came time to see to the invitations, I was shocked to hear that not a single Jewish family was on the list of names. For a while I protested, but the members of the organizing committee affirmed over and over again that the group that was attending the ball would not come if we were to invite Jews. I personally ascertained the veracity of this statement.50

According to Zay, the antipathy towards Jews had not passed at the time he wrote his essay: “they accept someone obligingly in a social circle until they learn he is a Jew, but relations grow chilly as soon as the truth comes out.” Nonetheless, he remained cautiously optimistic for the future.51 Influenced by the anti-Semitism that, as of the end of the 1890s, was becoming increasingly prevalent, the articles in Egyenlőség were in contrast increasingly pessimistic. By the end of the century the journal had definitely come to represent a different standpoint. In 1900, Ádám Lipcsey, one of the Christian authors (and also the child of a noble family), made the warning:

Let us not willfully close our eyes to the clear facts of experience, and let us admit the sad truth, that so-called ‘social anti-Semitism’ is present today in more meaningful and more general proportions than when, in the good old Istóczy days, this form of idiocy aspired to obtain political role and rank.52

Until 1914, the writings in Egyenlőség that touched on the question of the social acceptance of the Jewish elite showed none of the earlier optimism. On the contrary, they were increasingly bitter. At the beginning of 1902 it came to light that the organizing committee (led by Sándor Wekerle) of the lawyers ball, which was regarded as one of the most elegant carnival balls, had not included a single Jew on its list of 1,500 people. According to Egyenlőség, this was a symptom of a general trend:

We note it in part simply to rub it under the noses, should the occasion arise, of the doubting Thomases who wish to ignore the shameful spread of the canker of social anti-Semitism, which is much more dangerous than official anti-Semitism.53

Six months later the weekly was even more emphatic in its phrasing:

It is an indisputable fact that the Jews—and exceptions do not disprove the rule—day by day, and in particularly more recently, are losing ground. And this loss of ground is especially noticeable in the social sphere. […] The Jew cannot gain position in society, in so-called Christian society, which either looks down on him or loathes him.54

The authors of these kinds of statements did not care much for nuance. Thus it is not clear which social stratum was more closed to the Jewish haute bourgeoisie, the aristocracy or the stratum that by the turn of the century thought of itself as the “historical middle class,” but which was referred to by contemporaries as the “gentry.” As far as the world of the magnates was concerned, the aforementioned Géza Moscovitz had good relationships with several aristocratic families.55 However, the charismatic landowner may well have been merely an exception that confirmed the rule. Moreover, if one believes his daughter’s recollections, some aristocrats accepted his invitations to lunch only reluctantly because they had to confer with him on issues pertaining to the affairs of the county.56

Most magnates did not even go this far. When Albert Edward, prince of Wales and from 1901 until his death in 1910 king of the United Kingdom, spent time in Hungary in the 1890s, he stayed for a time in the home of a Jewish banker. His host organized a hunting expedition in his honor, to which the prince invited numerous guests. “Miklós Pálffy, my step-mother’s brother, was one of the people invited,” Mihály Károlyi recalls, “but he declined the invitation, saying that he would not set foot in the house of a Jew.”57 In 1901, Ferenc Molnár contended that indebted barons who, in their extreme need, “sold themselves to philo-Semitism […] sank deeper in the eyes of their former social circles than the countesses who ended up in the Orpheum [a kind of music hall].”58 Two years later, Ferenc Herczeg made a similar claim: “A real baron who is not impoverished and yet nonetheless socializes with rich Jews is in and of itself a suspicious phenomenon.”59

If some aristocrats were at times willing to grace the homes of a Jew with their presence, only very rarely was a Jew ever invited into their homes, as is clear from the writings printed in Szalon Újság (Salon News), which was published between 1900 and 1913. One of the goals of the periodical, which was intended “exclusively for the aristocracy,” was to give an “exhaustive” account of the “inner life of the aristocracy” and the “life in the salons.”60 In the list of names of the people who were invited to weddings, evening gatherings, and receptions between 1900 and 1913 one finds few converted Jews or descendants of converted Jews, only a dozen or so in the course of the entire thirteen years. This was nonetheless significantly more than the number of unbaptized Jews, since in fact there was only one Jew among the names, Géza Moscovitz, who was present at the wedding of prince János Liechtenstein and countess Maricza Andrássy in 1906.61

A few people’s recollections suggest that the upper circles of the “historical middle class” were somewhat more open, at least in some provincial cities, such as Nagyvárad (today Oradea, Romania). While according to Mrs. Dezső Fehér, a childhood friend of Adél (Léda) Brüll, “this was a rare bridging of classes even in Várad,” in the 1890s

the lovely Adél Brüll and her parents—our cirlces ascertained with a mix of amazement and envy—was accepted in Várad by the “upper-class society.” Adél and her parents are invited to grand, exclusive carnival parties: the Museum Ball, the Carpathian Ball, the Bachelors’ Ball, and the Casino and Officers’ ball.62

True, in 1901 not one of the roughly forty Jewish lawyers in the city was included among the organizers of the lawyers ball in Nagyvárad,63 but in his characterization of the city at the beginning of the 1910s Ernő Ligeti too emphasized the openness of the Christian elite:

His despotic disposition notwithstanding, Ferenc Miskolczi, the strict lord lieutenant of the county, about whom people were saying that he had had “everything deleted from the body of law that was not valid in Bihar [the county in which the city of Nagyvárad was found],” did not hesitate to sit down in the Royal to play cards with Samu Kepes or other Jews.”64

The question is further complicated by the fact that in the upper layers of Hungarian society (as indeed in turn-of-the-century Hungarian society in general), the “dividing walls” were not simply fault lines between Jews and Christians. In addition to the fact that there were relatively impermeable walls between the aristocrats and the nobility and indeed within the aristocracy and the nobility,65 there was an aversion not only to Jews but more generally to anyone of bourgeois descent.66 When in the 1890s Jenő Rákosi and Ferenc Herczeg (who like Rákosi was of bourgeois Swabian extraction) expressed their regret that some layers of Budapest society, layers which in their view had been called upon to unite, were in fact not uniting, in their denotation of the different layers they broke this society up into overlapping social, professional, and religious categories. As Jenő Rákosi wrote in 1893,

Considering the various professions, society is separated into castes in Budapest. The leaders of the individual castes come into contact with one another and sometimes one is in the social circle of another, but the layers themselves hardly come into contact with one another. […] There is no salon in which all of Budapest would feel at home. The world of writers and artists lives separately from the rest, the aristocracy lives separately, the prominent Jewry lives separately, the middle class and the people with official ranks live separately.67

Three years later Herczeg wrote on the world, or rather the worlds, of the parties in Pest:

The process of integration has failed. […] There are as many parties as there are groups of people who isolate themselves from one another. There are parties for magnates, parties for the gentry, parties for residents of Lipótváros, parties for the bourgeois (the latter two do not overlap entirely), parties for artists, and lots of other parties. Each of these groups has its own separate intellectual world, separate merrymaking and socializing habits, and even separate language.68

The question arises, did their religious status constitute any additional disadvantage, beyond the disadvantages they already faced because of their bourgeois extraction and their trades, for wealthy Jews who wished to gain acceptance into the social circles of the aristocracy or the upper echelons of the “historical middle class” and hoped that their social equality with these strata would find expression in formal manifestations of acceptance, beyond mere socializing in casual contexts such as horse raises, pubs, and similar locales. For their contemporaries, the answer was clear. As Zay wrote,

Over the course of the years, considerable riches have accumulated in the hands of the Hungarian Jews. They have purchased livestock and estates, innumerable urban buildings have been constructed with their money, and this rise in finance has been accompanied by the desire for a rise in society. Above and beyond all is, there is only one path to further ascent for the wealthy and distinguished Jew: abandon his fathers’ faith and have himself baptized.69

A decade later Sándor Bródy wrote a very pithy encapsulation of the situation of the upper-class Jew: “He has nowhere to go, and if he moves, at most he leaves himself behind.”70

Jews and Converts from Judaism in the Social Circles of the Traditional Elite

With regards to membership in the National Casino and the Country Casino, into which candidates were co-opted by Casino members, the disadvantage of being Jewish was indisputable. The National Casino, called Pest Casino until 1830, had been founded by István Széchenyi in 1827. The Country Casino was established in 1883 at the initiative of Arisztid Dessewffy, the secretary of the house of representatives. At the time of its foundation the National Casino had 45 members, the Country Casino 352. The number of members of the National Casino grew to 750 by the end of the nineteenth century, while the Country Casino reached almost 2,000 by the beginning of the 1910s. According to the regulations of each, belonging to the Jewish faith was not an obstacle to membership.

On the occasion of the assembly of the National Casino on June 10, 1827, Széchenyi stated the goal of the club:

In our homeland too there should be a place for an assembly of the distinguished, where leading, illustrious and well-educated, intelligent and sensible men from all classes of society could meet with one another either to engage in amicable conversation or to read various political newspapers and useful agricultural, scholarly, and artistic monthly writings, and also amuse themselves appropriately in their empty hours.71

Thus, as Gábor Gyáni has noted, when the National Casino was created Széchenyi himself thought not so much of “the separation of the social layers as he did of their mingling within certain borders.”72 This intention found expression in the fifth paragraph of the first detailed regulation, the regulation of 1878, which specified the conditions of membership:

Any upright, independent man who is refined in his conduct and of an unblemished reputation can be a member of the Casino if he is elected with the necessary majority according to the manner prescribed below. Neither political party sympathies nor class difference can be decisive at the time of admission or expulsion.73

With regards to the Country Casino, in its press release the committee in charge of the work in preparation for its foundation made the following statement:

The goal [of the institution] is to create a center for contact between members of the Hungarian middle class which, in addition to providing a site for socializing, will also serve to promote reflection that will further public interests and the exchange of ideas and nurture a sentiment of unity in order to help realize common interests.74

The first statutes of 1883 dropped the term “middle class” in response to the anxieties of the aristocratic members and defined the casino as a social club of “the educated classes of Hungarian society,” but the phrase returned in 1889. The modified regulations defined membership as consisting of people who belonged to the middle class, both “intellectually” and on the basis of their “positions of wealth.” According to the founding document, “any independent upright, man who is refined in his conduct, patriotic, and of an unblemished reputation and past” could be a member.75

Contemporaries tended to refer to the National Casino as the Magnates Casino and the Country Casino as the Gentry Casino. They considered each a place for gatherings of members of the respective social strata. In the case of the National Casino, the term did not actually apply to all of the members. According to historian Beáta Nagy, in the period beginning with the foundation of the Casino and ending in 1941, “at least half [of the members at any given time] had titles as princes, counts, or barons, and more than two-thirds of them were counts.”76 In other words, almost half did not belong to the aristocracy. According to Gabriella Eőry, in 1883 and 1913, 44.8 percent and then 52.4 percent of the members of the Country Casino had been state, municipal, county or judicial officials. In 1883, 20.5 percent and in 1913 14.9 percent was landowning, 25.7 percent and then 17.8 percent was comprised of lawyers or other people belonging to the intelligentsia, 2.8 percent and then 6.9 percent worked in industry, trade, or banking.77

In the National Casino, as soon as 1829, Széchenyi proposed to the general assembly that Jews be allowed to seek membership. His proposal had the support of only five other members, including Miklós Wesselényi, while almost fifty people voted against it, and it seems not solely out of antipathy towards the Jews. As one of the people who voted against the proposal explained, “it is not possible, among us, to draw closer to the Jews, for experience has shown that the magnates do not even wish to draw closer to the nobility or the burghers.”78 In 1832, the Casino rejected the application for membership submitted by Mózes Ullmann, who had converted some seven years earlier and went by the Christian name János Mór, and in 1837 it rejected the application of the yet unbaptized Sámuel Wodianer.79 In the course of the 1840s, however, the National Casino accepted in its ranks four upper-class Jewish converts and one Jewish doctor: Sámuel Wodianer in 1841 (who now as a convert was successful in his application for membership), Ferenc Weisz Bernát in 1844, Albert Wodianer the Elder (son of Sámuel Wodianer) in 1845, Bernát Ullmann in 1847, and finally, as the first Jewish member of the institution, Mór Moscovitz in 1848.80 Moscovitz, who died a Jew,81 had become the family doctor and confidant of Gyula Andrássy the Elder in the 1830s.82 He unquestionably had Andrássy to thank for his acceptance into the Casino. His singular position is illustrated by the fact that, while in the course of the following eleven years six more converted Jews were accepted as members by the National Casino (two members of the Wodianer family, two members of the Koppély family, which in 1867 changed its name to Harkányi, and two members of the Ullmann family, which in 1867 changed its name to Szitányi), it was not until 1860 that another Jew was made a member of the Casino, Ignác Hirschler, an ophthalmologist who between 1861 and 1863 served as president of the Israelite Community of Pest.83 Hirschler’s election, which clearly was not made independently of the awakening of political life in Hungary, meant the beginning of a new peculiarly liberal era in the life of the National Casino. Between 1860 and 1872, another eight Jewish men were made members of the National Casino.84 Considering the antecedents and what followed, this is striking even if the number of baptized Jews who have been admitted during this period remained slightly superior, ten altogether. What the father began, the son involuntarily brought to completion: following the election of Géza Moscovitz in 1872, the Casino only accepted converted Jews or their descendants, a total of fifteen people by 1918.85 In 1913, with the death of Géza Moscovitz, the National Casino, which over the course of the years had accepted ten professing Jews and 35 converted Jews or descendants of converted Jews, became, from the perspective of denominational belonging, entirely “Jew-free.”

In the case of the Country Casino, the situation is much simpler. As critics of the institution noted,86 the Casino never once accepted a single Jew as a member. It did accept converted Jews and descendants of converted Jews, however. At the end of 1883, the Casino had 632 members. Politically, the club was very heterogeneous, including among its members fervent liberals, like Dezső Szilágyi and Sándor Kozma, on the one hand and no less fervent anti-Semites, like Géza Ónody and Iván Simonyi, on the other. There were at least eight converts or people of Jewish descent among them.87 In 1913, which was to prove the last year of peace in the Dualist Era, of the 2,036 members of the Casino, about 36 were of Jewish descent.88

It is worth taking a moment to examine, alongside the National Casino and the Country Casino, the third most important social organization of the elites of the capital city, the Park Club, and its policies and practices with regards to the acceptance Jewish members. Unlike the two casinos, not only was the Club open to women, women actually enjoyed decision-making power equal to that of male members. Decisions regarding the acceptance of female members were made exclusively by the women’s committee.89 The founding assembly of the Park Club was held on January 15, 1893 and the sumptuously furnished club opened its doors in April 1895.90 The founder, baron Béla Atzél, was driven by the desire to create a forum in which the aristocracy and the wealthier, more refined families of the nobility would intermingle.91 It is possible that initially he had intended to admit professing Jews to the club. According to popular opinion, he was not fond of Jews, but he himself always denied this.92 In 1899, he gave up his position as co-director in the Country Casino because his fellow members had rejected the application (which enjoyed his support) of the later converted but then still unbaptized Arthur Egyedi, a factory owner and member of the national assembly.93

According to the 1893 draft of its statutes, the Park Club was established in order to provide “a pleasant center for contact between the refined classes of Hungarian society.”94 The text in the first yearbook, which was published in 1900, was essentially the same. According to the 1911 yearbook, the mission of the club was the following:

To create a pleasant center for contact between the refined classes of Hungarian society which, in addition to providing a site for socializing, will also serve to promote educational goals and goals that are in the public interests, and also promote the exchange of ideas, encourage various kinds of sports, and nurture a sentiment of unity.95

In the early years, Atzél was successful in his endeavor. According to an account published in Az Újság (The News) in 1910, “the very best of the aristocracy and the nobility filled [the Club’s] rooms.” Following his death, the situation slowly changed:

Today the Park Club is exclusively a club of aristocrats in which there are only a few scattered members of the nobility who, however, have cut themselves off entirely from their own circles and therefore can no longer be regarded as belonging to this strata.96

According to the recollections of Pál Hoitsy, Atzél allowed “one or two refined Jewish people and many converts of Jewish descent” into the Park Club.97 In fact, only the second part of this contention is accurate. In 1900 and 1910, the club had at least 20 converts or people of Jewish descent among its members, but in 1900 it had not a single professing Jew and in 1914 it had only one, if indeed it can be considered relevant, from the perspective of this inquiry, that as of 1907 the club had a member of the Viennese Rothschild family, baron Alfonso Rothschild, among its members.98

* * *

While in some periods—more so in the 1860s and 1870s and less so at the turn of the century—to be unconverted was not an obstacle for upper-class Jews to develop social contacts, good neighborly relations, or even friendships with members of the traditional social elites, belonging to the Jewish faith utterly excluded real social integration that went beyond occasional social contacts dictated to some extent by liberal political etiquette. Considering that—with one exception that only confirmed the rule—neither the aristocracy nor the elite of the “historical middle class” entered into marriages with unbaptized Jews, and keeping in mind the reluctance of the National Casino and the refusal by the Country Casino and the Park Club to accept Jewish members, one can reach the following conclusion: though even conversion did not ensure acceptance into these layers of Hungarian society, it represented an inescapable precondition of institutional-symbolic and structural integration. This constituted a contradiction of the liberal promise of acceptance. At the same time, the fact that the clubs and families that closed themselves off to professing Jews were open to converts does indicate that the practices of exclusion were not (yet) based on principles of race.


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1 [Kálmán Mikszáth,] “Istóczy tizenkét röpirata,” Szegedi Napló, October 17, 1880, n.p. [1].

2 Péter Hanák, “Magyarország társadalma a századforduló idején,” in Magyarország története 1890–1918, ed. idem (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1978), 446.

3 By “upper echelons” I mean those persons of noble origin who still owned their (large) estates and/or had obtained high-level positions in the state or county administration.

4 Of the groundbreaking works, one should mention the following: William O. McCagg, Jr., Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary (Boulder: East European Quarterly, 1972); Vera Bácskai, A vállalkozók előfutárai. Nagykereskedők a reformkori Pesten (Budapest: Magvető, 1989); Michael K. Silber, “A zsidók társadalmi befogadása Magyarországon a reformkorban. A ‘kaszinók’,” Századok 126 (1992): 113–41; György Kövér, A felhalmozás íve. Társadalom- és gazdaságtörténeti tanulmányok (Budapest: Új Mandátum Könyvkiadó, 2002); Árpád Tóth, “Asszimilációs utak a késő-rendi társadalomban. A zsidóság szerepvállalásáról a reformkori pesti egyesületekben,” in Léptékváltó társadalomtörténet. Tanulmányok a 60 éves Benda Gyula tiszteletére, ed. Zsolt K. Horváth, András Lugosi, and Ferenc Sohajda (Budapest: Hermész Kör–Osiris, 2003), 156–85.

5 For a comprehensive summary of the image of Jews in the prose of the Reform Era see Anna Szalai, “Bevezető,” in Házalók, árendások, kocsmárosok, uzsorások. Zsidóábrázolás a reformkori prózában, ed. idem (Budapest: Osiris, 2002), 7–97.

6 J. Zs. [Jenő Zsoldos], “Zsidó a magyar regényirodalomban,” in Zsidó Lexikon, ed. Péter Ujvári (Budapest: A Zsidó Lexikon kiadása, 1929), 985.

7 Ifj. Kornél Ábrányi, Régi és új nemesek (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1881); Gergely Csiky, Az Atlasz család (Budapest: Franklin, 1890).

8 Ferenc Herczeg, Andor és András (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1925), 47–48.

9 Bertalan Ormody, “Zsidó aristokrátia. Regényes korrajz (Vége),” Regélő, July 31, 1866, 68–69.

10 Ferenc Molnár, Az éhes város (Budapest: Pesti Szalon Könyvek, 1993), 235–40.

11 Ignác Acsády, Aranyországban (Budapest: Weiszmann Testvérek, 1880); Ferenc Molnár, “Disznótor a Lipótvárosban,” in idem, Hétágú síp. Tréfák, karcolatok, tárcák (Budapest: Franklin, 1911), 198–245.

12 Tamás Kóbor, Ki a ghettóból, vol. 2 (Budapest: Franklin, 1911), 191.

13 Vilmos Vázsonyi, Beszédei és írásai, vol. 1, ed. Hugó Csergő and József Balassa (Budapest: Országos Vázsonyi-Emlékbizottság, 1927), 296.

14 “Kortörténeti jegyzetek. A mi zsidóink,” Huszadik Század 9, no. 2 (1908): 402–03; Oszkár Jászi, “A magyarországi reakció szervezkedése,” Huszadik Század 11, no. 1 (1910): 372.

15 Ernő Lakatos, A magyar politikai vezetőréteg 1848–1918. Társadalomtörténeti tanulmány (Budapest: Szerző kiadása, 1942), 73. Emma Lederer, A magyar társadalom kialakulása a honfoglalástól 1918-ig. (N.p. [Budapest]: Népszava, n. d. [1947]), 169–70.

16 McCagg, Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary.

17 László Varga, “A hazai nagyburzsoázia történetéből,” Valóság 26, no. 3 (1983): 79.

18 Viktor Karády, “Zsidó identitás és asszimiláció Magyarországon,” (1988) in Zsidóság, modernizáció, polgárosodás. Tanulmányok (N.p. [Budapest]: Cserépfalvi, 1997), 40–41.

19 Hilda Bauer, Emlékeim. Levelek Lukácshoz (Budapest: MTA Filozófiai Intézet–Lukács Archívum, 1985), 44.

20 Anna Lesznai, Kezdetben volt a kert, vol. 1 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1966), 129–30.

21 Erzsébet Vezér, “A mindennapi élet története. Beszélgetés Popperné Lukács Máriával,” Kritika 14, no. 6 (1985): 28.

22 This was the case, for instance, in the following families: the Dirsztay de Dirszta family, the Ullmann de Baranyavár family, the Neuman de Végvár family, the Schosberger de Tornya family, the Groedel de Gyulafalu and Bogdány family, the Kohner de Szászberek family, the Herzog de Csete family, the Wahrmann family, the Madarasy-Beck family, the Hatvany-Deutsch family, the Gutmann de Gelse and Beliscse family, and the Ullmann de Erény family. Béla Kempelen, Magyar zsidó családok, vol. 1 (Budapest: Makkabi, 1999), 87, 96, 105, 112–13, 131, 134–35, 138, 140; vol. 2, 27, 38, 63–64, 141; vol. 3, 94.

23 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (=MNL OL), Szentistvánvárosi (Lipótvárosi) Roman Catholic parish, baptismal registry, roll A64. On the wedding: “Eljegyzések, esküvők,” Pesti Napló, July 3, 1882, evening edition. Excerpt in Jüdische Delikatessen. The possession of István Bonyhády Perczel the Elder. Országos Széchényi Könyvtár (=OSZK), manuscript collection (=Kt.), Oct. Hung. 730/23, 70.

24 According to Béla Kempelen, count Lajos Königsegg, who was in dire need of money, also agreed to marry the daughter of a wealthy Jewish mill owner of Arad without asking her to convert. I remain skeptical regarding this story, the account of which includes no dates, as I have found no trace of it in any other sources. See Kempelen, Magyar zsidó családok, vol. 1, 141.

25 (H-r.), “Königswarter Móricz báró,” Egyenlőség, November 17, 1893, 4–5; “Kikeresztelkedett milliomos,” Szentesi Lap, November 16, 1894, 4; “A nagyváradi püspök és a bécsi Jockey-club,” Egyenlőség, December 2, 1894, 10.

26 On the limited chances of German Jewish converts of finding spouses see Werner E. Mosse, “Problems and Limits of Assimilation: Hermann and Paul Wallich 1833–1938,” Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 33 (1988): 43–65. In the case of Hungary, one finds in Kempelen’s book, in addition to the aforementioned families, several dozen examples for which—unlike the case of count Köngsegg—the dates of the weddings are known, as are the names of the children who were born to the couples and the years in which they were born.

27 Cited by László Siklóssy, “A polgári erkölcs,” (1923) in idem, A régi Budapest erkölcse (Budapest: Osiris, 2002), 407–08.

28 According to Silber, with regards to the societies the market towns were more open to Jews than the free royal cities, while in general Pest trailed behind the provinces. According to Árpád Tóth, however, with the exception of the National Casino and the Agricultural Society every significant association in Pest during the Reform Era had Jewish members in its ranks. Indeed, as I note later, one Jew did manage to gain acceptance into the National Casino. Silber, “A zsidók társadalmi befogadása,” 113–41; Tóth, “Asszimilációs utak a késő-rendi társadalomban,” 163–73.

29 Péter Busbach, Egy viharos emberöltő. Korrajz, vol. 2 (Budapest: Kilián Frigyes, 1899), 34. Károly Vörös, “Pest-Budától Budapestig 1849–1873,” in Budapest története a márciusi forradalomtól az őszirózsás forradalomig, ed. idem (Budapest: Akadémiai, 1978), 225.

30 Imre Vahot, “Parádi fürdő-élet 1855-ben,” Pesti Napló, August 6, 1855, n. p. [2].

31 Dávid Kóhn, Hatvan év múltán. Visszaemlékezések (Gyula: Dobay János, 1936), 214–15.

32 “Levelezések,” Magyar Izraelita, March 7, 1862, 83; Imre Csetényi, “A hatvanas évek és a zsidóság,” in Tanulmányok a zsidó tudomány köréből. Dr. Guttmann Mihály emlékére, ed. Sámuel Lőwinger (Budapest: Neuwald Illés, 1946), 103; Edit Kerecsényi, “Nagykanizsa társadalma és egyleti élete 1900 táján,” in Közlemények Zala megye közgyûjteményeinek kutatásaiból 1984–1985, ed. Alajos Degré and Imre Halász (Zalaegerszeg: Zala Megyei Levéltár, 1985), 109.

33 Viola [Gyula Vezerle], Visszaemlékezések. Korrajz az 1860–61-iki időszakról (Vácz: Serédy Géza, 1878), 125–26.

34 Pál Tenczer, “Sváb rabbi jóslata Falk Miksáról,” Egyenlőség, June 5, 1898, 3; Zsigmond Groszmann, A magyar zsidók a XIX. század közepén (1849–1870) (Budapest: Egyenlőség, 1917), 45.

35 “Levelezések,” Izraelita Közlöny, May 14, 1869, 180.

36 Erzsébet Vezér, Lesznai Anna élete (Budapest: Kossuth, 1979), 9–12.

37 Vilmosné Vázsonyi, Az én uram (Budapest: Genius, n.d. [1931]), 8.

38 Tamás Vécsey, Tisza Kálmán (Celldömölk: Dinkgreve Nándor, 1931), 132–33. The Zsidó Lexikon mistakenly identifies Károly Sváb as a convert. In fact, he remained a Jew all his life. See “Sváb Károly halála,” Egyenlőség, August 6, 1911, 7–8.

39 Ferencz Pulszky, “A zsidókról,” Pesti Napló, July 25, 1880, n.p. [1].

40 For more on the Neolog-Orthodox split which came about in the wake of the Jewish Congress of 1868–1869, see Jacob Katz, A House Divided: Orthodoxy and Schism in Nineteenty-Century Central European Jewry (Hanover–London: Brandeis University Press, 1998).

41 Iván Horváth, “A zsidók s a magyar társadalom,” Egyenlőség, February 18, 1883, 3–4.

42 Egy zsidó, A zsidókérdés (Budapest: Wilckens és Waidl, n.d. [1884–85]), 3–4.

43 Andor Kellér, Mayer Wolf fia. Wahrmann Mór életregénye (N.p. [Budapest]: Hungária, n.d. [1941]), 42.

44 “Szalon,” Pesti Napló, February 11, 1881, evening edition. Excerpt in Jüdische Delikatessen. The possession of István Bonyhády Perczel the Elder. OSZK Kt. Oct. Hung. 730/9, 81.

45 A budapesti társaság (Budapest: Pallas, 1886), 452.

46 Ferenc Pulszky, “Májusi liberalizmus,” Pesti Hírlap, May 26, 1892, 2. Rutilus [Szigetvári Iván], “A mi szabadelvűségünk,” Élet, April 1, 1894, 238–42.

47 Antroposz, “Visszapillantás,” Egyenlőség, January 6, 1889, 1.

48 Ödön Gerő, “Budapest fiziognómiája,” in A mulató Budapest, ed. Henrik Lenkei (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1896), 49. The so-called church laws of 1894 and 1895 introduced civil marriage and civil registries, addressed the question of the religious confession of children of denominationally mixed marriages. They also guaranteed the free practice of all religions and declared the equality of Jewish religion with Christian religions.

49 Miksa Szabolcsi, “Két irány,” Egyenlőség, February 14, 1896, 6–7.

50 Miklós Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” Huszadik Század 4, no. 2 (1903): 962.

51 Ibid., 949.

52 Ádám Lipcsey, “Az idegesek,” Egyenlőség, April 1, 1900, 1.

53 “Hazug demokráczia,” Egyenlőség, January 26, 1902, 10.

54 Br. J., “A zsidóság és a társadalom,” Egyenlőség, August 3, 1902, 2–3.

55 Lajos Hatvany, Levelei, ed. Lajosné Hatvany and István Rozsics (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1985), 285.

56 Lesznai, Kezdetben volt a kert, vol. 1, 148.

57 Mihály Károlyi, Hit, illúziók nélkül (Budapest: Magvető és Szépirodalmi, 1977), 38.

58 Molnár, Az éhes város, 285–86.

59 Herczeg, Andor és András, 48.

60 “A „Szalon Újság”-ról. Még néhány tájékoztató szó,” Szalon Újság, December, 1900, 1.

61 “Andrássy–Liechtenstein nász,” Szalon Újság, September 15, 1906, 6.

62 Zsófia Dénes, Akkor a hársak épp szerettek… (Budapest: Gondolat, 1983), 108.

63 Endre Ady, “Napló. Pecsétek és egyebek,” (1901) in idem, Összes prózai művei, vol. 1, ed. Gyula Földessy (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1955), 414.

64 Ernő Ligeti, “Emőd Tamás,” in Ararát. Magyar zsidó évkönyv az 1944. évre, ed. Aladár Komlós (Budapest: Országos Izr. Leányárvaház, 1944), 59.

65 A budapesti társaság, 417; Győző Concha, “A társadalomról,” Budapesti Szemle 82 (1895): 352; Gábor Lajos Russay, Szobráncz gyógyfürdő (Ungvár: Lévai Mór, 1902), 84; Tamás Dobszay and Zoltán Fónagy, “Magyarország társadalma a 19. század második felében,” in Magyarország története a 19. században, ed. András Gergely (Budapest: Osiris, 2003), 436.

66 A budapesti társaság, 451; “Gentry,” Országos Gentry-Közlöny, June 2, 1889, 1. Győző Münstermann, A középosztály önvédelme (Kolozsvár: Ajtai K. Albert, 1904), 16; Mihályné Károlyi, Együtt a forradalomban (Budapest: Európa, 1978), 133.

67 Jenő Rákosi, “Budapest városrészei,” in Az Osztrák–Magyar Monarchia írásban és képben, vol. 9 (Budapest: Magyar Királyi Állami Nyomda, 1893), 191–92.

68 Ferencz Herczeg, “Zsúrok és zsúr-látogatók,” in A mulató Budapest, ed. Henrik Lenkei (Budapest: Singer és Wolfner, 1896), 117.

69 Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” 960.

70 Sándor Bródy, “Tímár Liza,” (1914) in idem, Színház (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1964), 392.

71 A Nemzeti Casinó szabályai és tagjainak névsora. 1901 (Budapest: Franklin, 1902), 1. Henceforth I refer to the yearbooks of the Casino, which were first published in 1828 and which changed titles several times (I have consulted them up to 1918), with the title A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve.

72 Gábor Gyáni, “Magyarország társadalomtörténete a Horthy-korban,” in Magyarország társadalomtörténete a reformkortól a második világháborúig, ed. Gábor Gyáni and György Kövér (Budapest: Osiris, 2006), 230–31.

73 A nemzeti kaszinó évkönyve 1878, 56–57. Until 1878, the yearbooks of the National Casino were tight-lipped on the question of eligibility. One finds the following note in the yearbook of 1829: “Birth or religion is not to be taken into consideration.” This specification is found only in the yearbook from this year. According to the yearbook from 1830, the members of the Casino “must be men of noble conduct.” One year later the phrase was “illustrious noble conduct.” In 1834, it was switched to “upright, noble conduct.” See A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1829, 41. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1830, 41. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1831, 43. A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1834, 55.

74 Béla Novák, “Fővárosi kaszinók a 19. században,” Budapesti Negyed 12 (2004): 90–114, accessed May 25, 2014, http://epa.oszk.hu/00000/00003/00033/novak.html.

75 Gabriella Eőry, “Az Országos Kaszinó és a középosztály,” in Zsombékok. Középosztályok és iskoláztatás Magyarországon a 19. század elejétől a 20. század közepéig. Társadalomtörténeti tanulmányok, ed. György Kövér (Budapest: Századvég, 2006), 322, 324.

76 Beáta Nagy, “Az elit társasélete a klubok, kaszinók keretében,” in Társadalomtörténeti módszerek és forrástípusok, ed. László Á. Varga, vol. 1 of Rendi társadalom – Polgári társadalom (Salgótarján: Nógrád Megyei Levéltár, 1987), 69.

77 Eőry, “Az Országos Kaszinó,” 338.

78 István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 3, (1826–1830), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1932), LV, 318.

79 István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 4, (1830–1836), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1934), 241. István Széchenyi, Naplói, vol. 5, (1836–1843), ed. Gyula Viszota (Budapest: Magyar Történelmi Társulat, 1937), 122.

80 A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1841, 54; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1844, 55; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1845, 55; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1847, 53; A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1848, 34.

81 OSZK, gyászjelentések, FM8/35797/344: Zempléni Moscovitz Mór.

82 Vezér, Lesznai Anna élete, 9–10; Groszmann, A magyar zsidók, 46.

83 A Nemzeti Kaszinó évkönyve 1860, 15.

84 The eight Jewish members, with the dates of their election in parentheses, were: Jakab Lányi (1861), Henrik Lévay (1862), Soma Rothfeld (1867), Hermann Todesco (1870), Miksa Brüll (1870), Frigyes Schey (1870), Mór Wahrmann (1870), and Géza Moscovitz (1872).

85 With regards to converts I took only their father’s side of the family into consideration.

86 Mór Szatmári, Közszellemünk fogyatkozásai (Budapest: Werbőczy, 1898), 24; Zay, “Zsidók a társadalomban,” 962; Gyula Vigyázó, A magyar zsidóság és a keresztény társadalom (N.p.: Szerző kiadása, 1908), 15–16.

87 Az Országos Kaszinó évi jelentése az 1883-ik évről (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1884).

88 Az Országos Kaszinó évkönyve 1913 (Budapest: n.p., 1914).

89 In 1900, a women’s section of the Country Casino was established, but the representatives of the two genders did not come into contact with one another in the club. The men’s directorate made the decisions regarding the admittance of women. The women’s section was dissolved in 1908. See Beáta Nagy, “„Az asszonyoknak egy szalónt kellett teremtenünk.” Nők és klubélet a századforduló Budapestjén,” in Nők a modernizálódó társadalomban, ed. Gábor Gyáni and Beáta Nagy (Debrecen: Csokonai, n.d. [2006]), 240–53.

90 “Park-Club,” Szalon Újság, April 30, 1905, 5–6.

91 Pál Hoitsy, Régi magyar alakok. A letűnt nemzedék férfiai (Budapest: Légrády Testvérek, n.d. [1923]), 69.

92 Mór Szatmári, “Báró Atzél Béla,” Egyenlőség, April 1, 1900, 3–4.

93 Ibid., 4.

94 A „Park-Club” alapszabályai. N.p., [Budapest], 1893. OSZK Plakát- és Kisnyomtatványtár, Kny. D 3. 350.

95 A Park Club évkönyve 1911 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1912), 51.

96 “A klubélet Budapesten,” Az Újság, December 25, 1910, 130–31.

97 Hoitsy, Régi magyar alakok, 69–70.

98 A Park Club évkönyve 1900 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1901); A Park Club évkönyve 1914 (Budapest: Hornyánszky Viktor, 1915).